John, an army veteran’s battle

I felt like I was losing control and I was starting to feel really vulnerable

An army military veteran including the Cambodian and Balkans conflicts, John Weiland didn’t expect to be fighting a losing battle on the home front with his eyesight. But the 68 year-old former senior army officer who lives in Capalaba felt he was doing just that when, after visits to two different ophthalmologists, he still had no idea why he was “seeing double”.

Although each of his eyes still saw clearly on its own, with both eyes open John had started to see two copies of everything.  John’s eyelids also began to droop, to the point where he had to physically pull his eyelids open with his fingers to see.  These issues were incredibly annoying, and disabling – he couldn’t read, had difficulty working around the garden and had to stop driving. “I was unable to get on with my life, I felt like I was losing control and I was starting to feel really vulnerable,” he says. “Not being able to drive was really affecting my independence and mental health too.”

Visits to two eye specialists had not yielded any diagnosis.  A third, Dr Neroli Porter, was suspicious that John could have a rare but serious muscle weakness disease called myasthenia.  She referred John to Dr Anthony Pane, neuro-ophthalmologist at the Queensland Eye Institute.

“John was in a really bad way when we first met,” said Dr Pane.  “His eyelids were almost closed.  And when I pulled his eyelids open, both of his eyes were almost completely paralysed – he could hardly move his eyes at all.  He was getting double vision because his eyeballs were pointing in completely different directions.”

Dr Pane performed some clinical tests for myasthenia.  When he put an ice pack on John’s drooping eyelids, they lifted immediately.  And when he had John look up for two minutes, his lids fell further.  “John certainly had severe myasthenia,” said Dr Pane, “so we started treatment immediately.”

Myasthenia is a muscle weakness disease caused by antibodies in the patient’s blood accidentally attacking the joining point between the nerves and muscles.  Sometimes – as in John’s case – only the eye muscles are attacked, causing drooping eyelids and double vision; in other cases, other body muscles can be affected. In many cases of myasthenia, double vision is the first symptom.

Dr Pane prescribed John tablets to suppress his over-active antibodies, and another medication to strengthen his weakened eye muscles.  Even within a few days John’s eyelids began to open, and his eyes began to move again. After four weeks, his eyes were wide open and his vision was back to normal.

Reflecting on recent events John says, “At 68 I thought, “this is it” with my eyesight and it was a permanent condition. I had become house bound, I couldn’t read, garden, watch TV or use my computer. It was an awful experience and I’m very grateful that my condition was finally diagnosed correctly.”

John is now also back to walking his dogs, seven year-old Honey and 10 year-old Benny, both fox terriers. He spends most of his free time involved in animal rights, veterans’ welfare and doing research in military history. The battle is over, at least for now.

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