Aspiring Physician Assistant with Keratoconus Avoids Blindness with Experimental Cross-Linking Procedure

In 2009 Emily Rochac Argueta realized her vision was rapidly deteriorating headed towards blindness, reported Times Union. The aspiring physician assistant was diagnosed with keratoconus, a rare eye disease that thins and deforms the cornea into a cone-like shape. She was told both of her eyes were affected by the disease and if she didn’t take action she could lose her sight forever. To learn more about keratoconus, click here.

Emily sought out many different corneal specialists in New Jersey, and it ultimately came down to two choices to manage her disease: one was a corneal transplant– although one transplant wouldn’t suffice, and she would need continually operations for the rest of her life. There was also a chance that her eye would reject the cornea. Her other option was an experimental operation referred to as corneal cross-linking. This procedure while new, could prevent her eyes from becoming worse. Yet, ultimately it wouldn’t fix and cure the problem. There will always be hesitation with experimental drugs and procedures, but Dr. Robert Schultze from Cornea Consultants of Albany was in favor of the latter.

Emily decided to go through with cross-linking. The procedure isn’t an easy one as, the eye is saturated and then exposed to ultraviolet light for 30 minutes. It’s painful to the patient. They often feel deep throbbing for days after and could take up to a year to fully recover. This procedure reseals the corneal layers that are disrupted from by keratonconus. It also comes with steep costs, since it’s experimental and insurance companies don’t support it yet. Emily had to pay about $5,000 out of pocket for the procedure, which actually was only a small fraction of her overall expenses for her 8 years of fighting for her vision.

After undergoing multiple surgeries and a successful cross-linking procedure, she allowed herself to fully heal to prepare for, hopefully, a final implant. In 2013, when her disease was halted, she had an implant to flatten the cone bulge. Ever since surgery, she is required to wear special contact lenses. After all the surgeries and pain, she regained her vision and learned how to manage it successfully.

Emily now lives with her husband Carlos and 14-month-old daughter, a sight every mom wants to see. Without her special contacts, she has extreme visual impairment. As soon as she puts them in, she can see her family sharp and clear, which puts her at ease.

It’s amazing what cross-linking has done for Emily and many others. While it still isn’t fully covered by most insurance companies, it did receive it’s FDA approval being well on it’s way.


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