To most people, vision correction surgery seems like a convenience, freeing them from the day-to-day hassle of contacts and glasses. But for patients with mobility issues, it can feel like a lifeline.
Janine Justis was 22 when her sixth cervical vertebrae was shattered in a car accident. She spent two months in the hospital after the accident receiving care and physical therapy, but had lost all feeling below her shoulders, along with much of the mobility in her arms, head, and neck. A determined and independent individual, Janine, who had a degree in social work, returned to school and completed her master's degree a few years later. Now a counselor for eighth and ninth graders, she helps her students navigate their most tumultuous years, setting educational goals and teaching alcohol and drug prevention. In 2007 she was named Utah's Middle School Counselor of the Year.
Janine's life was complicated further by her extreme nearsightedness. Because she had such limited mobility, she couldn't simply move her head to see things happening around her. Books in her lap were difficult to read, and if a student called her name in the hall, she had to turn her entire wheelchair.
But Janine, who lives with her parents and receives physical assistance from her mother, is luckier than some. "For many patients with paralysis," Janine says, "being able to see is a matter of security. When you depend on strangers to help get you out of bed in the morning, it can be frightening not knowing who has come into your room or what they are doing. And if your glasses fall off or slide down your nose, you simply have to wait for someone to help you pick them up or adjust them."
In November 2015, Janine began looking into corrective eye surgery, but found the cost prohibitive. "Disabilities like mine are expensive," she says. So she was truly excited when she received a call from Dr. Amy Lin's office at the John A. Moran Eye Center saying they wanted do the surgery pro bono. "People with disabilities often can't get their contact lenses in and out and may need help from others just to get their glasses on and off. I really want to help those with disabilities gain more independence by improving their vision," said Dr. Lin. After a thorough screening process, Dr. Lin determined that Janine qualified for PRK (photorefractive keratectomy), one of several refractive surgical procedures offered at the Moran Eye Center, to eliminate dependence on glasses or contact lenses.
Freedom From Glasses
Janine found the state-of-the-art laser suite at Moran's Midvalley location unusually spacious and accommodating: wide doorways and hallways are wheelchair-friendly, and the staff was adept at making her comfortable from the moment she arrived. Janine said she was nervous, but the whole thing was easier than she expected it to be.
One year later, Janine is still working to keep kids on the right path, but now she doesn't have to completely turn her wheelchair when a student calls to her. "The vision correction has made a big difference in my life," she says. "I feel more secure and less vulnerable everything is easier. I can read books placed on my lap; I can see what is happening around me; I can interact with my students, and it feels really good to see who is coming in and out of my room to assist me. She is grateful to Dr. Lin and to Moran. "It's nice to know that there are people out there who recognize this need and who help," she says. She hopes that more patients receive this same opportunity because it's "one less limitation.
To learn more about how spinal cord injury patients may be screened and considered for pro bono vision correction surgery, contact Steve Christensen at the Moran Eye Center at (801) 213-0220.