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Audrey Dean has been a lifelong advocate for social justice. After a notable career in social work, she earned a law degree and became senior counsel for the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 1992. At age 75, she is still arguing cases — some before the Supreme Court of Canada. "It's fortunate that the government of Alberta doesn't have mandatory retirement," she says wryly.
The Alberta government had no intention of ending Audrey's career. But in 2009, it looked as if failing eyesight might. The crusading lawyer, who had always had perfect vision, began having trouble reading and driving.
She consulted with a local ophthalmologist, who diagnosed cataracts and recommended surgery to remove them. But unconvinced of the diagnosis, Audrey sought a Second Opinion at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
This wasn't her first experience with Mayo Clinic. Years earlier, her husband had consulted physicians there after learning he had cancer. And she had been seen doctors at Mayo about her own hearing loss — the result of radiation therapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. When she began having eye problems, she felt Mayo Clinic was the obvious choice.
"I have a vacation home in Phoenix, where I usually spend Christmas, and I asked if I could possibly be seen at Mayo over the holidays," she says. "I got an appointment immediately — before even arriving in Arizona."
Audrey underwent an extensive exam that yielded both good news and bad news. Her ophthalmologist, Joanne Shen, M.D., confirmed that Audrey's intuition had been correct — she didn't have cataracts. But she did have a problem that was potentially more serious: age-related macular degeneration, a chronic eye disease that may get worse over time. It’s the leading cause of severe, permanent vision loss in people over age 60. This condition that blurs the high-resolution central vision needed for reading, driving and recognizing faces.
It happens when the small central portion of your retina, called the macula, wears down. The retina is the light-sensing nerve tissue at the back of your eye.
Because the disease happens as you get older, it’s often called age-related macular degeneration. It usually doesn’t cause blindness but might cause severe vision problems.
Another form of macular degeneration, called Stargardt disease or juvenile macular degeneration, affects children and young adults.
Until recently, little could be done to halt the progress of the disease, which is the main cause of central vision loss in older adults. But now, antibody medications injected into the eye can delay, prevent and in some cases reverse macular deterioration. To maintain the effects, injections must be repeated every four to eight weeks.
"I would happily have flown to Arizona every six weeks for the injections, but I was able to find a retina specialist in Alberta to administer them," Audrey says. "The results have been just amazing. As a result of the treatment, there has been no further deterioration. I have my life still. I can drive, and I'm able to read, which is essential for both my legal work and for pleasure — I really love reading. So I'm very thankful to the Second Opinion at Mayo Clinic for diagnosing me correctly. Having cataract surgery would not have improved my vision and quite likely would have made the macular degeneration worse."
The experience reinforced her belief in the value of a Second Opinion and the expertise available at Mayo Clinic.
"I would encourage everyone to get a Second Opinion," she says. To be sure about the diagnosis, as well as peace of mind.
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