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Pannee McKinley

"I would give my last dollar, the last one in my pocket, to help stop diseases like breast cancer and AMD. The research is so important. If not for Dr. Letson and Dr. Tandon, I would be blind."


Pannee McKinley is well-known for her strength and good-nature. A Thai native and five-year breast cancer survivor, she has never been daunted by a challenge or a diagnosis. That is until she heard that her vision was deteriorating due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). “I didn’t cry when I found out that I had breast cancer,” said Pannee. “I drove myself to chemo and I stayed strong. But, when I found out that I could go blind, I was devastated. Your vision is so important. You close your eyes and think about not ever being able to open them again...it’s terrible.”

Originally from Thailand, Pannee learned to be strong and independent from an early age when her mother immigrated to Washington, DC. Pannee remained in Thailand with her father, but it wasn’t easy growing up with her mother 8,000 miles away.

After graduating from college with an accounting degree, she was able to follow her mother to the United States, where she met Gary McKinley. She and Gary later married and moved to Bellevue, OH. Pannee began working in insurance and remained in Bellevue for 20 years, before settling in Columbus and taking a job at Nationwide Insurance.

In the late 90s, she lost central vision in her left eye and went to Alan Letson, MD. Her left eye was down to count fingers vision and she was diagnosed with a form of advanced Age- Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Wet macular degeneration is caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak into the macula, the center of the light-sensitive layer on the inside back (retina). Left untreated, wet AMD can result in complete vision loss in the center of your field of vision. Irreparable damage had already been done to her left eye, but Dr. Letson was determined not let her lose the vision in her right eye. Pannee monitored her right eye for any signs of wet AMD, and was evaluated every four months.

In early 2006, Pannee was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the next year in chemotherapy. Early detection and diligent treatment saw her cancer-free in 12 months, but in August of 2007 she noticed a rapid change in her vision. The vision in her right eye had been 20/25—nearly perfect—but suddenly she was only seeing 20/300. She was terrified. Dr. Letson saw that she had developed significant wet AMD in her right eye. He immediately started her on intraocular anti-VEGF injections to slow the growth of the abnormal blood vessels.

“It’s scary to you hear that you could lose your vision,” said Pannee. “I mean, when I first heard about injecting AMD medicine into the eye and it made me so nervous, but when you know you could lose your vision, you say, ‘Do whatever you need to do to try and save my sight!”

Her initial series of anti-VEGF therapy produced no improvement. With her vision down to 20/400, Dr. Letson switched her to a different anti-VEGF injection and addedP hotodynamic Therapy (PDT) laser.

Finally, her vision began to improve, and reached 20/40—good enough to drive again—but her eye troubles weren’t over yet. Her vision began to decrease. If she were dining out, she would have to take the menu outside into the sunlight to see.

Pannee had begun to develop cataracts, a clouding of the lens inside the eye. Because she had only one useful eye, the cataract surgery was delayed until the benefits far exceeded the risks. She finally had to give up driving—a big blow to her independent spirit.

In April of 2008, with the cataracts fully developed, Dr. Letson referred Pannee to Amit Tandon, MD who removed the cataract from her left eye. She went from count fingers vision to 20/200. Dr. Tandon performed the second cataract surgery and Pannee’s right eye went from 20/80 to 20/25.

“After the first surgery, I could immediately tell the difference,” said Pannee. “It was so hard to wait the three weeks until I could have my second eye done, but then, it was like a miracle. I could see!”

Pannee is still receiving anti-VEGF injections to keep the wet AMD from returning, but they are less frequent and her vision is holding. She is grateful for having the right doctors and expertise at the right time.

“I would give my last dollar, the last one in my pocket, to help stop diseases like breast cancer and AMD,” said Pannee. “The research is so important. If not for Dr. Letson and Dr. Tandon, I would be blind. I want to make sure no one else has to face what I did.”

Learn more about Dr. Alan Letson and Dr. Amit Tandon