The thought of forgoing reading because of her rapidly deteriorating eyesight terrified Joan Retzlaff after suffering complications from her wet macular degeneration.
The condition — a chronic eye disease that affects the central field of vision — caused a massive bleed in one of her eyes, further damaging her eyesight.
"I was in a panic at that point because I've been a reader all my life and not to read is a horrible thought," said Retzlaff, a Frankfort resident. "When you're 80, you want to keep going as much as you can."
But Retzlaff has found numerous ways to deal with her failing eyesight, ranging from technology-assisted devices to simple household computer and light maneuvers, with the help of a low-vision clinic in Flossmoor.
The Chicago Lighthouse, a nonprofit social service agency that helps the visually impaired and blind, opened the satellite location in conjunction with an Ingalls Memorial Hospital's day rehabilitation program. The two organizations have a similar clinic in Calumet City, and the Lighthouse also has satellite clinics in Chicago, the north, northwest and west suburbs.
Hillary Napier, associate director of occupational therapy at the Lighthouse, has been helping Retzlaff set up a number of devices in her home, including a cordless, large-button phone with large-screen display for caller ID, bold-lined paper, dark-colored pens, a lamp with a special bulb that provides natural daylight spectrum lighting and decreases glare, and a number of computer modifications.
The clinic, which opened earlier this year, will also be ordering Retzlaff hand-held magnifiers, stand magnifiers, distance telescopic glasses and high-powered reading glasses.
In the meantime, her ophthalmologist and retinologist are working to stabilize her eye problems. She will also need cataract surgery in the future.
"It's like a whole world is opening up for me that I thought would be closing," said Retzlaff.
Help started with an hour-and-a-half vision check and consultation with Dr. Tracy Matchinski, an optometrist and low-vision rehabilitation specialist with the Lighthouse and Flossmoor clinic. Matchinski uses large eye charts to test patients' sight and then discusses what lifestyle changes and devices might be needed.
"We look at activities of daily living and ask if they can manage those," said Matchinski. Such activities can include reading mail, prescriptions, food labels for diabetics with eye problems and classroom blackboards for kids, she said.
Many of the clinic patients are referred by Dr. David H. Orth, director of the Retina Center at Ingalls. Orth said most patients suffered from age-related macular degeneration or significant central-vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.
"I've been doing this for 35 years and there'll be a few people (doctors) out south who kind of dabble in it, but I really wanted to bring out people who are completely dedicated to working with these patients," said Orth, professor of ophthalmology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who helped start the clinic.
Orth said some of the patients he referred to the clinic later told him how much they appreciated the dedication of ophthalmological and technical staff.
"They're given a lot of options as to what might help them and not pressured in any way to accept one device over another," said Orth.