Lisa Gerlach was born with a rare congenital cataract which had to be removed while she was an infant. After that, she had one cornea transplant, and then another. Each failed, leaving Lisa half-blind in her left eye. Although she underwent several other surgeries during her childhood, her vision never improved.
Living with vision in only one eye was difficult, but Lisa was determined not to be held back by her disability. She participated in many activities, including sports during high school. When she was 17, she was hit in the head while playing basketball and began “seeing color, like tie-dye” out of her left eye.
Lisa was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found that she had detached her retina (the light-sensitive layer of her eye) and had to have surgery to reattach it. The surgery was a success, but soon after she developed yet another severe eye problem—acute glaucoma (increased pressure inside the eye causing vision loss). Unlike most glaucoma, which is nearly symptomless until significant vision loss has occurred, acute glaucoma can be extremely painful.
“I had never had headaches like that in my life. My head hurt so bad, I couldn’t stand it. I remember one year I woke up Christmas morning and didn’t want to open my presents. I didn’t even care.”
Over the years, Lisa has had several laser surgeries for glaucoma, which helped with the headaches, but nothing could save her diminishing vision. As time passed, her headaches continued to get worse. After the birth of her son, she knew that something was wrong with her left eye. She was admitted to the OSU Emergency Room and Steven Katz, MD was called to operate. Exactly one month to the day from her son’s birth, at six o’clock at night, she had to have her left eye removed.
“That day, I had a headache so bad that I thought I was going crazy. They had to remove my eye. Dr. Katz and his team were amazing through the whole thing. I was a new mom. I missed my son. I was freaking out. I was a mess. Dr. Katz and Dr. Shelly Jain, my glaucoma specialist, explained everything that was going on so I understood. I was so scared, but their understanding and patience gave me peace of mind and got me through it.”
After her eye was removed, Lisa had to adapt to life with only one eye. Her depth perception was altered and she had to re-learn many simple tasks, like pouring a cup of coffee or reaching for objects. This, however, was nothing compared to the agonizing eight weeks that she had to wait to get a prosthetic eye.
“People can be very cruel. You try not to let it bother you, but you just get so self-conscious. I went into my shell and never wanted to go out again. Then, I got my prosthetic eye and people don’t even notice anymore. Now, I can say, I know what it feels like to be a whole new person.”
Lisa was impressed with Dr. Jain and Dr. Katz, and the staff. The “level of perfection” and care that they took in making her feel comfortable and normal still resonates with her today. Lisa slowly began to regain her confidence. A former 911 dispatcher, her newfound courage enabled her to apply for and secure the job of her dreams working at Medflight, dispatching medical helicopters. Now, despite all of her troubles, Lisa says she has it good.
“I hope people read about me and are inspired. I don’t want anyone going through life feeling like I felt—ashamed. This isn’t something to hold you back.”