|Today, Veteran Eric Cordero never takes looking out of the window for granted.|
A casual conversation with an elderly Veteran led Eric Cordero to the VA and a new outlook on life — literally.
They were talking about Eric's vision problems and the elder Veteran said, "The VA will take care of you." This suggestion led Cordero to a counselor at a VA community-based center in Harlem where he was referred to the VA's New York City campus.
Cordero, a 44-year-old Army Veteran, was suffering from a disease known as keratoconus, a degenerative eye disease that causes the cornea to become thin and warp into an abnormal curvature.
The disease most commonly develops in young adults and progresses until the early 40s. It occurs in one in 2,000 people in the United States.
Dr. Joel Solomon, Chief of Ophthalmology, at the New York VA Medical Center, explains that this disease is usually treated non-surgically with a hard contact lens. Surgery — corneal transplantation — is a last resort.
The usual reasons for a corneal transplantation are from complications arising as a result of cataract surgery, infections and trauma.
Cordero, a Field Artillery soldier in Kentucky (Ft. Knox) and Korea (Camp Stanley), had initially worn a hard contact lens until the progression of his eye disease made him unable to continue with this option.
Then, a donated cornea from someone Eric will never know made his surgery possible.
Corneal transplantation is performed with fastidious attention to detail by a surgeon using an operating microscope. The patient's cornea is cut and removed using an instrument called a trephines that Dr. Solomon describes as being like a "miniature cookie cutter."
After the diseased cornea is cut out and the donated organ is cut to fit into the recipient's eye, it is put into position and attached to the recipient's cornea with 16-to-32 stitches, using sutures finer than a human hair.
Dr. Solomon adds, "When all goes well, it's great. The patient regains normal sight."
With Eric, there were no complications. Both the operation and recovery went well. He has no other information about the donor whose generosity allowed him restored sight, other than that it was a man from Chicago.
Eric once played basketball, football and hockey, but now is only able to fish and enjoys ocean fishing off Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
Commenting on the surgery, Eric said, "Dr. Solomon is great. I had to give my history to lot of different doctors, but once I learned they were interns and learning, I was OK. Good or bad, you learn from every experience. I have beautiful, healthy children and my mother is still here, so I'm lucky."
There is still more to be done. Now that his right eye is fixed, Cordero needs to decide if he will follow Dr. Solomon's recommendation to have a transplant in his left eye where keratoconus is progressively damaging his sight. In spite of the long and sometimes painful recovery, the father of four said, "I think I'll do it."
By Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer