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Joy Dawson

“Sight is an important part of life. I couldn’t see my daughter or granddaughter. You get a whole different perspective when you almost go blind.”


On October 4th, 2010 at 5:00pm, Joy Dawson was preparing to meet friends. She was still at work at Nationwide Insurance where she works as an IT specialist and stepped into the restroom for a moment. She does not remember anything about the next five weeks. Joy had an aneurysm in her brain which ruptured. The emergency squad was called. Joy’s daughter, Mireille Tussing arrived in time to travel with her mother to the emergency room.

The next five weeks Mireille watched her mother undergo multiple tests, procedures, and surgeries. When doctors had successfully managed the aneurysm, and she was beyond the risk of seizures, she was transferred to the rehabilitation center at OSU’s Dodd Hall.

“I would say that that first week in Dodd was when I recognized that mom was finally coming back and starting to be herself again,” said Mireille. “The following Monday, I wheeled her down to her first rehab session. All of the other vision tests that she had previously failed, I had blamed on sedation. This time I realized, ‘She really can’t see.’”

During her sessions, the rehabilitation specialist kept trying to have Joy stand up and walk with assistance, but Joy kept insisting “I don’t want to run into that wall,” or “I’ll hit that chair”. They could not convince Joy that there was no wall or chair in her way. She was seeing things that were not there.

“I was describing things that didn’t exist,” said Joy, “and no one really argued with me because they assumed I had brain damage from the aneurysm.”

Mireille noticed that none of her other functions seemed disabled. Joy recognized familiar voices, had conversations with people, and demonstrated a good memory.

“To me it wasn’t consistent, everything seemed all there,” said Mireille. “That was when they brought someone to take a look at her eyes.”

Dr. Cedric Pratt, the ophthalmology fellow who examined Joy, found blood which had pooled in the back of her eyes. Dr. Colleen Cebulla, a retina specialist at the OSU Havener Eye Institute, confirmed the diagnosis: Terson's Syndrome.

Terson's Syndrome is a rare condition caused by intraocular bleeding due to intracranial bleeding and high intracranial pressures, most often resulting from a ruptured aneurysm of the brain. The “hallucinations” were caused by Joy's brain interpreting the blood as familiar shapes.

This was the first bit of good news for Joy. It meant there was potential to improve her vision. Dr. Cebulla performed a vitrectomy, a surgery to remove the blood from her eye. With the eye clear of the hemorrhage, Dr. Cebulla was able to see to the back of the eye and examine the retina, and central vision area, the macula.

“We were very happy to find out that her macula looked good,” said Dr. Cebulla. “There was a subretinal hemorrhage, but it looked like it was not affecting her central vision.”

The day after the surgery Mireille brought her nine-year-old daughter Chloe in to see her grandmother. Chloe had been very worried about her Grandmother and had even said that all she wanted for Christmas was for "Gamma" to see her.

“I didn’t tell her that grandma had had surgery and I didn’t tell my mom I was bringing her. When my daughter walked in, Mom was in the middle of a conversation with one of the nurses. She stopped and said 'Chloe!' and my daughter responded, 'You saw me!' It still brings tears to my eyes."

A few weeks later, Dr. Cebulla was able to perform surgery on Joy's other eye. Again, a very dense hemorrhage was removed from the vitreous. Unfortunately, she had a lot of hemorrhage under the retina in the macula. They were not sure how good the vision would be, but over time that sub-retinal hemorrhage improved. Her vision in both eyes had improved from light perception to almost 20/20.

“I am so thankful,” said Joy. “Without sight the physical therapy would have been nothing. I’m back to work now and live by myself. It's almost as if nothing happened.”

Learn more about Dr. Colleen Cebulla