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Eye disease limits WBAL's Thompson

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Chuck Thompson, the voice of Orioles baseball and Colts football forgenerations of Marylanders, is undergoing treatment for an optical diseasethat could bring to a close his broadcasting career.

Thompson, who will be 79 next month, is suffering from maculardegeneration, a leading cause of blindness among the elderly, that has limitedhis vision to the point where he can neither read documents nor do baseballplay-by-play, because he can't see the ball.

As a result, Thompson's duties on Orioles games this season have beenlimited to commentary, a role he will fill this weekend in New York, whileFred Manfra is doing Kentucky Derby broadcasts for ABC Radio.

"I have parts of sight, but I don't have the ability to read. I can lookout my window and see trees and I can see my grandchildren and my wife," saidThompson. "There's one minor problem and we hope that it can be corrected."

Thompson, who said he has felt the effects of the disease for the past twoyears, is undergoing a new, experimental form of treatment called photodynamictherapy at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute. The treatment may eitherslow the progress of the disease or help him to see better.

In the "wet" form of macular degeneration, which Thompson has, tinycapillaries grow behind the macula, the portion of the retina that providescentral vision. When those vessels burst, the blood from them destroyslight-sensing nerve cells and damages a person's sight.

Thompson said the disease causes no pain, headaches or side effects, buthas the effect of making it difficult for him to distinguish word endings orto follow a plane across the sky or a putt across the green.

Thompson said he can see stop signs, but not when they are surrounded bytrees and other vegetation, and while the ailment has improved his nightvision, one of the unfortunate casualties of the disease is that he has beenunable to complete the audio version of his book, "Ain't the Beer Cold."

"The stop sign just blends right into the foliage. Yellow lines on the roadjust seem to split right up the middle, as do telegraph poles," said Thompson,whose brother also suffers from the ailment.

The photodynamic therapy treatment that Thompson is undergoing involves theinfusion of a drug, verteporfin, into the bloodstream. The drug looks for andidentifies the abnormal capillaries, then, using a low-power laser, a doctorstarts a chemical reaction that essentially seals off the vessels and causesthem to dry up.

Thompson, who underwent the therapy earlier this year, said the evaluationperiod, which was originally thought to be about seven weeks, may now be aslong as three months.

The doctors "are not positive that it will have any effect and they areanxious to see what the result will be, as am I. It may work for some peopleand not for others," said Thompson. "If anything good comes of this, I'mhoping that my experience can be helpful to others who have this and aren'tseeking treatment."

Thompson has been a mainstay of Baltimore radio and television since hebegan broadcasting Orioles minor-league games in 1949, and his catch phrases,"Go to war, Miss Agnes," and "Ain't the Beer Cold," are indelibly stamped inthe memories of area fans.

He received the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993,which while not technically signifying induction into the Hall, is the highesthonor a baseball announcer can receive. Besides the Orioles, Thompson, andformer WBAL broadcaster Vince Bagli, were the voices of the Colts, and areafootball fans will recall his call of Alan Ameche's touchdown plunge in theovertime of the 1958 NFL championship game between the Colts and the New YorkGiants.

In recent years, Thompson, who will work alongside Jim Hunter on Friday andSaturday, has done a limited schedule of Orioles games for WBAL (1090 AM), theteam's flagship station, and station manager Jeff Beauchamp said he's contentto let Thompson work at his own pace.

"We made it clear to Chuck when we entered into this last deal that hecould do whatever he felt comfortable with," Beauchamp said. "If he wanted todo color, that's fine with us. He's an icon and we want him to be a part ofour broadcast in whatever way is best for him."

Clarification:

The Sun reported that Oriolesradio announcer Chuck Thompson was undergoing "new, experimental therapy" totreat the eye disease macular degeneration.

When Thompson's treatment began earlier this year, the therapy waspermitted as part of an experimental study. Since then, on April 12, the Foodand Drug Administration approved verteporfin, the drug involved in thetherapy, making it no longer experimental.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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