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Like many things in life, your health is something that can be easy to take for granted. You count on your vehicle to get you from point A to point B every day without incident. You presume that when the temperatures drop in winter, the furnace will warm you up with a click of the thermostat. Perhaps the most predictable parts of life are your five senses. But if anything breaks down, things can turn from fine to frightening in a hurry.
A brush with blindness
Linda Schweikert, a retired dermatological nurse from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, found herself in a situation where her eyesight felt like it was breaking down. She awoke to bright blue and gold-bronze colors, as well as half-eclipse shapes, in her vision when she closed her eyes. "When I opened my eyes, it would be gone," Linda says. "My husband, Bud, who worked in the eye care business for 49 years, agreed that I needed to be seen right away."
She called her local ophthalmologist, but unfortunately, they were not able to get her in that morning. They called Lee Hofer, M.D., at Chippewa Valley Eye Clinic in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who saw her immediately. "We went up there, he checked my eye, and told me I had a retinal detachment with macula off," she says.
A detached retina, which has various causes — none of which Linda was at high risk for — must be treated quickly, so the Schweikerts and all of the providers involved knew that she would need surgery as soon as possible. Dr. Hoffer texted Wayne Wu, M.D., Ph.D., a vitreoretinal surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System. Within five minutes, he told the Schweikerts to come right over.
To Bud's delight, they were greeted in the waiting area by a woman who they had worked with previously. It set the Schweikerts at ease, and they knew they were in good hands. "They just did everything," Linda says. "They got me in for exams, tests and had me ready for Dr. Wu. He confirmed that my retina was detached and I needed surgery right away."
The plan was for Linda to have eye surgery at 6 a.m. the next day, but there was one complication: She needed a physical exam first. She was unable to see her primary provider in that time frame, but a Mayo Clinic Health System nurse called around and found an opening at another local clinic in Eau Claire for that afternoon. They sent her directly over for the physical and to have blood drawn.
"At that point, I was ready for surgery," Linda says. "I couldn't have asked for better service. All providers were so cooperative and professional. Everybody, from the receptionist to the preop nurse, was friendly. The two facilities … took the reins to get me the care I needed."
Early the next morning, Dr. Wu performed a vitrectomy, which includes removal of vitreous gel in the eye to gain access to the retina, draining fluid through the retina tear and reattaching the retina using lasers. At the end of the procedure, he filled Linda's eye with a long-lasting gas bubble that holds the retina in place during the healing process.
"The follow-up is pretty extensive," Linda says. "I had to keep my face down for 10 to 14 days, which involved using a face-down support system with a mirror attached, so my head faced downward, but I could see things in front of me. Everything was available in Eau Claire, including all of the information I needed for recovery and the apparatus itself."
Linda says she didn't have any pain or discomfort during her recovery, other than her eye feeling a bit gritty at times. She had to endure nearly two weeks of keeping her head down in the apparatus and three more weeks of eye drops, but she healed perfectly and says everything is back to normal now.
Seeing the Mayo Clinic method
"I can see well now, with no eye irritation or anything," she says. "What impressed us the most was the cooperation between the different facilities, which is what you like to see in a city of this size. Dr. Wu was nice, congenial, and his staff was professional and well-trained."
The Schweikerts want everyone to know how lucky they feel to have Mayo Clinic Health System in their town. "By the time I was done with preop and ready for surgery, we said, 'We'd still be in the car driving to the Twin Cities right now and putting off the surgery if we didn't have Mayo Clinic care in Eau Claire.' We were treated so professionally — and personally — and we got home after it all and just said, 'Wow.'"