Note: In our practice, we get to hear a lot of interesting stories about how our patients overcame their eye care challenges. With this being an Olympic year, I thought this story of how a south suburban resident dealt with his unique eye health problem was very interesting. Take a look and note the video explaining in more detail what his eye disorder is.

Olympic bobsledder Steven Holcomb and restaurant owner and semi-professional pool player Steve Vranas of Tinley Park, Ill. don’t have much in common but they share a rare eye disorder:  keratoconus.

Holcomb, who just won the gold metal in 4 man bobsleed  for the Vancouver Winter 2010 Olympics, first noticed he had eye troubles several years ago and was referred to a top eye surgeon in California to correct his vision and improve his bobsledding technique.

Vranas isn’t an Olympic athlete, but competing at pool takes a steady hand and keen eye. One day last year, he noticed that the pool balls he was racking seemed fuzzier than normal.

“My eyes were watering and I noticed that I also had trouble seeing street signs at night,” Vranas said.

He went to see a number of eye doctors who prescribed more powerful contact lenses than his existing contacts.  But that didn’t work and neither did a still stronger prescription. One day, Vranas was shopping at his local Wal-Mart and decided to stop in and see the optometrist located in the optical shop there.

“Almost immediately, the Wal-Mart optometrist told me that I may have a condition called Keratoconus,but he was not sure,” Vranas said.

Keratoconus is a disease of the cornea in which the cornea loses its natural round shape and becomes distorted with cone-like bulging, progressive thinning, and associated reduction in vision quality.

Vranas went to see his cousin, an ophthalmologist in Peoria, for an exam but his cousin didn’t have the necessary technology and experience to successfully treat his keratoconus.  Desperate for answers, he turned to the Internet to find a doctor with the necessary background and technology to help him.  His search took him to Dr. S. Barry Eiden of North Suburban Eye Consultants in Deerfield and Park Ridge, Ill., who has treated thousands of patients with keratoconus over the years and offers advanced diagnostic and treatment technologies for his patients.

“We have a different and more detailed approach to diagnosing rare eye disorders than most eye care practices,” Eiden said.  “We perform corneal analysis using a system called the Pentacam which measures the front and back thickness of the cornea,” Eiden said. “We also do a technique called aberration measurement which measures the distortion of vision caused by keratoconus and we have instruments that analyze the layers of the cornea to tell us what stage the disease is at.”

Eiden discovered that Vranas’ disease state was advanced enough to merit specialty contact lens that can “mask” the irregularity of the corneal surface, thus increasing the quality of vision in comparison to the vision through glasses.

“Today gas permeable contact lens correction of keratoconus is still the main stay of treatment, however very specialized designs have been developed that improve vision and comfort far beyond yesterday’s lenses. In addition, customized soft lenses, hybrid, and scleral lenses can now be designed that can also provide excellent visual results in many cases of keratoconus that have failed with more traditional approaches,” Eiden said.

Vranas was a good candidate to receive a relative new type of contact lens from a company called SynergEyes laboratories.  According to Eiden, the contact lens is a unique hybrid that has a highly oxygen permeable central area and a soft periphery.

“We evaluated him, confirmed his diagnosis of keratoconus, educated him about the condition, his status, and his prospects for the future (in terms of progression, probability of needing corneal transplantation, etc.), and then discussed the contact lens treatment options and selected what we felt was his best option,” he said.

Vranas was fitted with a hybrid keratoconus lens design called “SynergEyes ClearKone,” which has a unique geometry of both the rigid center and soft periphery, resulting in a lens that vaults the central cornea and aligns the soft periphery.  Eiden and his team were involved in the pre-market testing of the lens so they have more experience fitting patients with this lens than any other optometry and ophthalmology practices in the Chicago area.

“Dr. Eiden and his associate contact lens specialist, Dr. Brafman were the only doctors I found in the Chicago area who had the expertise to treat me,” Vranas said.  “They pinpointed my problem and corrected it pretty quickly,”  Their skills and the care provided by the staff at North Suburban Vision Consultants have made a dramatic positive effect on my life!”, Vranas said.

“I see better now than when I had soft contact lenses and these hybrid keratoconus lenses are much more comfortable than the hard lenses that my cousin tried to fit me in,” he said.  Vranas also said that his cousin, who has also had keratoconus for years, has now ordered a pair of the SynergEyes lenses, too.

Vranas said his pool game has improved too, though now he can’t blame his vision on missing a shot.