FOX 29 reporter shares medical journey after waking up blind in one eye

PHILADELPHIA (WTXF)- As a father of two girls, I could never imagine going a single day without seeing their smiling faces, and watching the little things like school plays or planting a garden.

As a TV journalist we get to be the eyes of the world. 

But for me, the ability to witness news, to literally see things clearly, was about to change.

I remember it vividly. It started January 12 in the morning. I woke up with a sudden and painless loss of vision in my left eye like the sensation of a shade being pulled down my eye.

I went to work thinking it was a migraine.

It was a pretty big deal. Because have to see for my job and I remember that night doing a live shot in Camden and remembering , 'Do people notice this at home that I can't see out of this eye?'

Within two days I was sitting in the chair of Delaware County Ophthalmologist Doctor John Ruffini.

That's where my lifelong medical journey would begin.

"There is a little bit of blood vessel engorgement," Dr. Ruffini explained, "This is called an optic neuropathy. It's an ischemic optic neuropathy it's an interruption of blood supply to the optic nerve."

Immediately Dr. Ruffini sent me to specialists at Wills Eye Hospital in Center City, generally regarded as one of the premier eye hospitals in the country.

Five days later, I walked into the office of Dr. Bob Sergott the director of neuro-ophthalmology.

"It was our job to determine why a young guy like you wasn't getting blood in there," Dr. Sergott explained to me.

This began a battery of blood work countless diagnostic tests; enough pictures of my eyes to fill a family album.

But, six weeks had passed and what I didn't get was answers.

I figured I'd start documenting what is going on with me. Since doctors, in their own words, say they are baffled in what's causing my vision loss.

It was like a kick to the gut when doctors told me my vision loss wasn't going to get any better, but I didn't expect it to get worse.

I woke up again and the vision went from losing 25% of my vision to losing 80% of my vision. Then I knew there was a problem.

"Eight weeks later you come back and you can't read the big E on the chart. And then we look in the back of your eye and it really looks unusual," Dr. Sergott explained.

"The best way to describe it is this eye feels like it's smeared with Vaseline. I could see color. I could see shapes. But if I close one eye I would not recognize you," I told him.

PHOTOS: FOX 29 Reporter's medical journey

Then, it was back to Wills for more testing, more eye-drops, more waiting rooms, and more copays.  Unfortunately, no more answers.

Until doctors at Wills had themselves an "ah ha" moment.

The answer sat in one single image. It was taken from an optical coherence tomography scan; relatively new technology allowing doctors to see deeper into your eye.

The inflammation in my eye was gone, revealing the answer to my vision loss.

"You threw a little clot off your heart and ended up in the artery in your eye," doctors told me.

It didn't hit me until I saw it on the prescription pad. 

The official diagnosis: I had suffered a stroke to my left eye, and it's definitely given me a different perspective on life.

In an instant, I went from being an eye patient at Wills Eye Hospital to a cardiac patient at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital just across the street.

My medical team now includes doctor Arnold Greenspon of Jefferson's cardiac electrophysiology unit, where a new course of treatment begins.

"A fair number of patients who have unexplained blindness go on to have a bigger stroke," Dr. Greenspon said.

By late March I'm in an operating room. A small army of doctors and nurses get me prepped me for two preventative heart procedures.

"I can't necessarily understand what he's going through because I have full vision. But hopefully it will give us some answers," my wife, Dawn, said to my doctors in the prep room.

First came a trans-echo cardiogram, which gives doctors a detailed 3D image of my heart, by inserting an implantable loop recorder.

Then in a second procedure-the doctor implants cardiac monitor into my chest.

The tiny device with a three-year-battery life, will record every beat of my heart 24 hours a day, looking for any problems.

A monitor at home will transmit my information back to the hospital every single morning.

Immediately, those procedures revealed another surprise.

What doctors call a PFO, or Patent Foramen Ovale.

Two heart defects were found, including a hole in my heart most people are born with. But mine, never closed.

The other was a quadracupsid aortic valve, a defect found in one in .5% of the population. In this case a four leaf clover isn't so lucky, in that the rare phenomenon has led to small leak.

The issues cardiologist Nick Ruggiero says could cause problems or the need for surgery later in life.

"Over time the valve could become more leaky than a tricuspid aortic valve and if that happens there may be a need for valve replacement," Dr. Ruggiero explained.

So now it's all about preventing another stroke, I've since started a daily regimen of blood thinners and aspirin. Along with a healthy lifestyle and new technology tracking my every heartbeat I hope to lead a normal life.

"We monitor you. And we watch for any subsequent signs of stroke. Cause that might account for us to change our game plan a little bit. We'll also want to watch this heart valve on a yearly basis to make sure that something that's sort of mildly leaky doesn't progress to something that's more severely leaky and could account for problems down the road," Dr. Ruggiero told me.

In my case, as bad as it is, my loss of vision turned out to be a warning sign a bigger health issue.

Doctors are finding brief and sudden vision changes like mine are many times early warnings of stroke, and with the help of new ever changing medical technology, prevention is possible.

In the beginning it was sad. A little depressing I'm losing vision in my eye. Especially as a reporter, but now I look at it as a warning sign. This could end up saving my life someday.

"For years and years the eye was viewed as the window of the soul. Well it could be the window of a lot of serious neurological problems and now heart problems," Dr. Sergott explained.

For me living with reduced vision will take adjustments like walking around furniture, around small children on my left side, and driving. But it's just a matter of adapting to those things.

I can still read, I can still drive, and just a month after my procedure I finished my second Broad Street Run.

And yes, I can still see the smiles on my family's faces, and if I have anything to do it, and I intend to keep it that way

I want to be here for my kids. I want to be here for my wife want to be here for a long time.

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