Blackout, a blessing for Marten

When an eye doctor tells you your eyes are very healthy, is that the end of the story? For 78-year-old Marten Meyboom, it was just the beginning.

When Marten’s left eye vision “blacked out” for ten minutes in early May, he didn’t know he was about to have a stroke. He assumed that something was wrong with his eye. He had also been fatigued, had headaches and “wasn’t thinking well.”

“I was sitting watching TV and I couldn’t see a thing. I said to my wife, I’m blind! I can’t see a thing!” She said, “shall I call an ambulance?” and I said “no I’ll be fine”. And then all of a sudden, a little bit of my vision came back and then a little more. It was painless so I didn’t think any more of it.”

Marten visited his optometrist, who referred him urgently to Queensland Eye Institute’s neuro-ophthalmologist Dr Anthony Pane.

At the time, his wife Anna was extremely worried about him going blind but wasn’t aware how serious it actually was.

Dr Pane examined Marten and found his vision to be normal, and his eyes absolutely healthy. However, he suspected this was a blood supply problem – specifically, a narrowing in the main blood vessel in the neck, the carotid artery.

Dr Pane referred Marten for an urgent ultrasound which confirmed his suspicion – both Marten’s carotid arteries were severely narrowed, the left critically. This was causing temporary “mini-strokes”, with small blood clots forming in the artery and going to the back of Marten’s left eye, causing the blacking out of vision. Marten’s brain also wasn’t getting nearly enough blood, hence the headaches, fatigue and slow thinking.

Marten was urgently referred to a vascular surgeon, who operated to open up the severely blocked left carotid artery in his neck. The transformation was immediate – the blackout episodes stopped, Marten felt well again for the first time in many months, and he was able to think clearly again.

“The eyes are just part of the visual system” says Dr Pane. “Our job isn’t just to look at the eyes, but to consider the whole patient, including the brain, heart and blood vessels. We were lucky with Marten; another few weeks and he almost certainly would have had a massive stroke.”

One of Dr Pane’s roles at QEI is to educate other eye doctors, optometrists and medical students about the need to “look beyond the eye” when assessing patients with vision complaints. To this end, with the institute’s support, he has given hundreds of lectures in Australia and internationally, and has written four internationally-published textbooks on ophthalmology and neuro-ophthalmology. He is currently preparing a second edition of his neuro-ophthalmology textbook. First published ten years ago, it has been of help to many thousands of doctors and their patients worldwide and has been translated into six languages. Dr Pane is grateful to the many generous donors to QEI, who support his educational work.

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