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Seeing the future with clarity

Transplants give Duncan woman new chance at a bright future

When Melissa Notley was 18, she learned that she had a disease that could cause her to go blind.

Up to that point, she'd been a pretty typical teenager. She'd just graduated from Duncan High School and was looking forward to college, a career and everything else that life might bring her way. She knew that her dad, Roger, had always had eye problems, but she'd never really thought much about her own vision. Like most people, she had taken her sight for granted.

"I didn't wear glasses until I was 15," she said.

But life for the typical teen wasn't destined to be so. In fact, in the 17 years since she was first diagnosed with keratoconus, the young woman's life has been largely  but not completely  dominated by it. Now, after enduring two cornea transplant operations, she's hopeful that she'll get to move on from keratoconus and keep her vision for the rest of her life. 

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, keratoconus is a disease that often shows up in people who are afflicted when they are in their late teens or early 20s. It affects the normally round cornea  the clear front "window" of the eye  causing it to become thin and to lose its shape. Symptoms in each eye are typically different. As keratoconus progresses, the cornea takes on an irregular cone shape, which prevents light that enters the eye from being focused correctly on the retina. While at first the disease may cause only slightly blurred vision or increased sensitivity to light, over time it can result in blindness. 

About 1 out of 10 people with keratoconus have a parent who has it too. In Notley's family, her dad also was affected, and so was her sister and a cousin; but her case was the worst because of the way it progressed so rapidly.

After high school, Notley enrolled at Cameron University and took classes with a goal of having a career in computer information systems. At first she was able to compensate for her keratoconus. Many people may go for years only having to get stronger and stronger prescription lenses in their glasses or by wearing special hard contact lenses. However, Notley's keratoconus became debilitating when the cornea in her left eye swelled to the point of rupturing. It caused her to have to leave school.

"I tried to live my life, but my eyesight was slowly deteriorating," she said. "I'd been able to see the computer screen, but after awhile you just knew, because you couldn't see the print, that something was terribly wrong."

She noticed it especially at night.

"Walking at night felt like pitch black. It scared me to death," she said.

It was a dark time, but something great was happening around that time as well. Notley had met a man, Jayson Weathers, and they'd fallen in love. They eventually would be married and he, along with family members and friends from school, church and work would become a huge source of strength to her.

The Lawton Constitution

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