By the time Randy Whitesides made it to the office of internationally recognized glaucoma expert Robert M. Feldman, MD, the Floridian had lost the vision in his right eye. After contracting a bacterial infection in Mexico 30 years ago, he developed reactive arthritis, an autoimmune condition in which the joints become painful and swollen. One manifestation of the condition is uveitis, which Whitesides has had since 1984.
“Like all autoimmune diseases, reactive arthritis is triggered by environmental factors, including stress,” says Whitesides, founder and CEO of Neptune Boat Lifts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“My uveitis comes and goes and eventually became this thing in my life that I just dealt with. At first I had it once or twice a year for four to six weeks. Eventually, I was getting it five to 10 times a year. You follow the treatment protocol – steroid eye drops – but a few days after I started the steroids, my intraocular pressure (IOP) would spike in response. I used other eye drops to reduce the pressure, but over time I became extremely sensitive to the steroids. I’d be fine one day, then the next day my IOP would shoot up to 50 or 60, which can cause blindness in a few hours.”
From his home in Key Largo, Whitesides called his local ophthalmologist when he developed another case of uveitis in the winter of 2013. “He was out of town so I self-medicated until he got back,” he says. “My IOP spiked and I lost vision in my right eye in a matter of a day. After this, my ophthalmologist told me my condition was out of his league and recommended I go to one of the big eye clinics. I’d been treated at Bascom Palmer in Miami, so I scheduled an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston. In the interim I had a second, much more severe episode of uveitis and woke up almost totally blind. A friend drove me up to Weston, where they admitted me through the ER. I was treated by their team and released. Over the next month my uveitis started to improve.”
During the recovery period, Whitesides could only see shapes. An associate of his who had undergone corneal transplants at the Robert Cizik Eye Clinic in Houston suggested he call Dr. Feldman, who directs the clinic and is chief of ophthalmology at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and clinical professor and chair of the department of Ophthalmology at UTHealth Medical School.
“I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll call’ but I put it off,” Whitesides says. “So my associate called Dr. Feldman and gave him my number. When he heard about my case, he called me at home. I was really impressed that he took the time to call me. We spent almost an hour on the phone that night going through my treatment history. He told me he had a really good team and suggested I come to Houston when I felt well enough to travel. ‘We’ll put you through a battery of tests,’ he said. ‘You’re getting really good treatment, but they may have overlooked something.’”
At the end of 2013, Whitesides saw uveitis specialist Alla Kukuyev, MD, and Dr. Feldman. “The autoimmune suppressant Randy was taking was no guarantee that he wouldn’t have another episode of uveitis,” Dr. Feldman says. “Every time he had uveitis and a reaction to steroids with a sudden increase in intraocular pressure, he was at risk of losing more eyesight. We recommended tube-shunt surgery to preserve the vision he had.”
Whitesides flew home to Florida to think it over. The next day he called to schedule his surgery. On a Tuesday in December 2013 Dr. Feldman placed a tube-shunt in his left eye, followed by one in his right eye on Thursday. On Friday, he flew home.
Dr. Feldman consulted with his local ophthalmologist in follow-up. “Randy’s story describes how we work with patients and their physicians. Patients come here for expert care, and when they return home, we become a resource to their local ophthalmologists.”
After 30 years of experience with ophthalmologists, Whitesides is discerning about the care he receives. “Everyone at the Cizik Eye Clinic was great,” he says. “I give them a 10-plus for an amazingly positive experience.”