(BPT) - As one of the world’s top paratriathletes, Amy Dixon is always looking forward. Even though an autoimmune disorder has taken away most of her ability to see, she has extraordinary vision for reaching her goals.
This summer, she’ll head to Tokyo. For Amy, it’s an incredible journey that would have seemed unimaginable two decades earlier.
Vision troubles come to light
Amy first noticed her vision problems as a 22-year-old college student. She struggled to see clearly in a darkened room. Driving at night, she failed to notice oncoming cars. The signs were clear that something was wrong with her eye health, but Amy wasn’t convinced.
“I had 20/20 vision as a kid, so I dismissed the problems I was having as being related to some other condition like migraine,” says Amy, a migraine sufferer since she was a teen. “I was ignoring what was obvious — that something was wrong with my eyes.”
After scheduling an appointment with an ophthalmologist, Amy learned she had uveitis, which is a form of inflammation inside the eye. Amy’s doctor told her that the disease had already put her eyesight in serious jeopardy. He said that 70% of her peripheral vision had been lost and she would need to begin treatment immediately or risk going blind within 10 years.
“Unfortunately, I waited too long before having my eyes examined and uveitis had already attacked my vision. When the diagnosis sunk in, I thought I was destined to going blind,” adds Amy.
Becoming her own advocate
Rallying behind a forward-looking attitude that would ultimately become her calling card, Amy confronted her condition head-on. Working with her doctor, she began an aggressive treatment regimen. While uveitis would eventually take 98% of her vision, the treatments succeeded in slowing down progression of the disease.
A new diagnosis and the athlete reemerges
With her uveitis in remission, Amy received a second vision diagnosis: she now had developed glaucoma as a result of her treatment. Resilient and determined to keep her life moving forward, Amy began treating her glaucoma.
Along the way, she reengaged in sports and took up swimming, a favorite activity for the former competitive high school swimmer. When a friend introduced her to triathlons (swimming, running and biking), Amy was hooked. She completed her first triathlon in 2013 and today, she is the reigning ITU Aquathlon World Champion and a seven-time ITU Triathlon Gold Medalist. When the competition in Tokyo starts in August, Amy will race toward the finish line the same way she approaches life: by overcoming the setbacks in her path. It’s an important lesson she is eager to share.
“There is always a way forward,” says Amy. “I encourage people to maximize the strengths they have and find creative ways to do the things they want. It may not be the way you wish for, but if you are open to learning, you can do great things.”
Amy’s prescription for better eye health
Amy views her journey as a cautionary tale and she encourages everyone to be proactive in taking care of their eyes.
“Uveitis progressed quickly in impacting my vision because I waited too long to see a doctor and wasn’t diligent about getting my eyes examined annually,” says Amy. “Pay attention to your eyes. If you suspect you have a vision problem, then see an eye doctor right away.”
As she continues to manage her glaucoma, Amy also urges people, particularly young adults, to be wary of a disease that can sneak up without symptoms and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness.
“A dilated eye exam could save your sight,” says Amy. “The power is in your hands, so be your own advocate for achieving better eye health.”
If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma or are caring for someone with glaucoma, a great resource is “Understanding and Living with Glaucoma.” This free booklet is published by the Glaucoma Research Foundation, with support from Aerie Pharmaceuticals. It can be downloaded or ordered (in English and Spanish) at www.glaucoma.org/booklet.