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Changing Lives through the Art of Specialty Contact Lenses

Beyond a range of everyday vision-correcting options in rigid and soft contact lenses, the John A. Moran Eye Center provides patients with access to new generations of specialty contacts for challenging or rare eye issues.

Brandi Lavoie is one of those patients. She came to Moran with achromatopsia — a rare condition marked by the partial or total absence of color vision.

“This inherited retinal condition leads to reduced visual acuity, severe loss of color discrimination, day blindness, and extreme light sensitivity,” explains Dix Pettey, OD, Lavoie’s contact lens specialist.

Lavoie has lived with achromatopsia since she was an infant and could not open her eyes outside. She got by with tinted glasses for most of her childhood.“In my early teen years, lens options advanced, and my doctor found special contacts that could work for my situation,” Lavoie says.

Patient photo
Brandi Lavoie uses one pair of special hand-painted contact lenses for day and one for night to help manage a rare condition affecting color vision.

“After trying lots of tints and colors, he found a solution. I started using one pair for day and one for night. When I moved to southern Utah for college, I worried I wouldn’t find a contact lens specialist, so I flew home for appointments. Since I’m legally blind without my lenses, it was scary to contemplate a change.”

After college, Lavoie started as an associate director of student philanthropy and engagement at the University of Utah. She decided to give Moran a try.

“It turns out I didn’t need to worry about switching doctors,” she says. “Everyone at Moran had full knowledge of my condition. They have my lenses hand-painted in Colorado, and they’re great.”

Pettey employs tinted and painted contact lenses for various eye conditions, including aniridia (partial or complete loss of the iris), double vision, migraine, and heterochromia (different-colored eyes in the same person).

“Thanks to advances in contact lens technology, we can add specialized tints to soft contacts to help with light sensitivity, improve patient comfort, and allow them to function at their very best,” says Pettey.

A patient holding artwork.
Barbara Wesley displays one of her intricate works at a Glass Art Guild of Utah holiday show and sale at Red Butte Garden.

Scleral Contact Lenses

Barbara Wesley relies on sharp vision to create her finely detailed glass art pieces. She credits special scleral contact lenses, along with the “kindness and caring” of Moran’s David Meyer, OD, with improving her personal and professional life.

Wesley has keratoconus, which causes the cornea (the clear part of the eye) to become thin and develop a conelike bulge. This results in distorted vision and sensitivity to light and glare.

“In the early stages of keratoconus, you can often improve vision with glasses or soft contact lenses,” explains Meyer, Moran’s director of contact lenses. “But as it progresses, you need special contact lenses to maintain the best vision possible.”
Wesley received her keratoconus diagnosis around age 20.

“By the time I was 40, my vision had really gotten bad,” Wesley says. “I saw double, and everything was blurry. That’s when I was fortunate enough to get a cornea transplant from Dr. Randall Olson at Moran. It changed my life. I remember driving home from the university, and I saw an airplane lower its landing gear and trees on the mountains—it was amazing, and I am forever grateful.”

For several years, Wesley wore gas-permeable lenses, which are hard contact lenses that allow more oxygen to reach the eye than soft options. However, the lenses are small and tend to fall out. They were uncomfortable if any dust or debris came in contact with them.

“Those lenses just didn’t work for me,” Wesley recalls. “I missed seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time because dust was blowing everywhere, and I couldn’t get out of the car because I knew it would blow right into my eyes.”

When Meyer met Wesley in 2014, he knew she was a perfect candidate for scleral lenses.

“They’re made specifically for irregular corneas and are much larger than rigid lenses, so they rest on the entire white part of the eye,” says Meyer. “They do a great job of sealing around the eye.”

Another advantage of scleral lenses is that a chamber of fluid forms between the cornea and the back of the contact lens. Because of this, one of the nicknames for a scleral lens is a “liquid bandage.”

“My husband says the lenses changed his life, too,” says Wesley. “Instead of looking for lost contacts and sitting in the car to avoid dust, we enjoy spending time outdoors.”