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S13:E8 - “Doctor Tarpon” (2018)
Olympic Champ Steven Holcomb Turner Rowland and Dr Boxer Wachler wrestle tarpon and beat Keratoconus
When my son was in 9th grade, we made a routine visit to the eye doctor and found out he needed glasses. No red flags were raised, as many of his friends also needed glasses or contacts. Once they were in, we noticed that he wore them often and commented that they helped. A couple of months later, he wasn't seeing as well. We then returned to the doctor and he re-examined my son, giving him a new prescription and he could see well again. A few months later, the same problem occurred. Again, a new prescription was issued but this time the doctor recommended seeing a specialist.
The visit to the specialist yielded a result that I had never heard of.
"Your son has Keratoconus" the Doctor said
"Ok, what does that mean?" I asked.
"It means that he has a degenerative condition that will continue to worsen until he goes blind. This could take years, or even decades, or it could be faster."
"Or..." I asked, hoping that there was an alternative
"The only thing that can be done about this is to have a cornea transplant." he said.
The news hit my son hard. It weighed equally on my wife and I, but my son could see well now and had no other alternative but waiting to see if the condition worsened. Through high school, we returned to the doctor time after time to get different glasses and contacts. The new ones would work well for a few months, and then his eyes would worsen and would get a new prescription. This repeated itself over and over again.
I began searching the internet for information about this condition and found a story from the 2008 Winter Olympics. Steven Holcomb was the driver of the Gold Medal winning team and he was also diagnosed with Keratoconus. Despite losing much of his vision, Steven was able to pilot the sled for a gold medal. I researched some more and found that Steven had a doctor that did a procedure on him that not only stopped the Keratoconus, but restored his vision. The research lead to Steven's book But Now I Can See. I ordered it on audio immediately and started listening on my run for the day.
As I ran, I listened to this incredible story not just about a bobsled driver whose sight was saved by a doctor with a new procedure, but far more than just that story. First, the doctor was Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, and he came up with a procedure that was a non-invasive solution. Made from Vitamin B and then activated with a blue light, this would strengthen the fibers of the cornea and prevent Keratoconus from degenerating the eye. Dr. Boxer Wachler took this procedure to a convention of doctors specializing in this condition and expected to have a standing ovation. Instead, he was shunned, discredited (or attempted), ignored and laughed at. Dr. Boxer Wachler knew that his information was important and remained steadfast, despite huge criticism, until the high profile case of Steven Holcomb was presented to him.
At the same time, the sport of American Bobsled was also being transformed by NASCAR influencers, which brought attention to the sport of bobsledding and gave Steven Holcomb more publicity than ever seen before in this sport.
By now, I am at mile 12 of what was supposed to be a 5 mile run. The book was fascinating on so many levels that I just kept running and listening to it.
I made it home after about 14 miles that day and finished the book the next day. The moment the last word was spoken, I dialed the Boxer Wachler Institute in California (click here to view website) and found out what information they needed to determine if my son was a match.
I knew I had found the doctor who had the answers, and I would do anything to get my son in his office.
As always, we had Jason Stemple with us to document this trip in ultra high quality still photos. Here are some of my favorites. Enjoy!
A few weeks later, I got a letter with excellent news that Turner was an excellent candidate for Holcomb C3R procedure, CK and Intacts (small half circle pieces of plastic that are inserted into the eye to support the cornea). We made our plane reservations immediately.
Once there, I knew we were in the right place with the first step into his office. HIs staff was incredible, welcoming and professional. Soon, we met Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler. After a few tests and some consultation, we left to return the following day to have the procedures done. We spent the day on Venice Beach and got some incredible food.
The next morning, Turner had all three procedures done and went home within a few hours of arriving. He had to wear dark goggles to keep him from touching his eyes while sleeping, but just for one day. We returned to the office for a follow-up and found that everything looked great. The Keratoconus had been stopped. His eyes would adjust to the procedure over the next few months and would then be able to get new prescriptions.
While talking to Dr. Brian, I told him what I did for a living and asked him if he liked to fish. He said that he did and showed me some pictures from an Alaskan trip. I said "I think it would be really cool to get you, Steven Holcomb, and Turner on the boat together to film a show". Dr Brian said, lets make it happen and on our next shoot it was a reality.
Watch this very important episode of Saltwater Experience as Turner, Gold Medalist Steven Holcomb, and Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler come to the Florida Keys to fish for tarpon and barracuda with us.
Post script: We found the best contact fitting doctor in Nashville, TN and took Turner to him. Dr Jeffrey Sonsino (click here for website) was very familiar with Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler's work and was excited to see us. He recommended Scleral Lenses for this condition. Dr. Sonsino was in charge of the Scleral lens program at Vanderbilt for many years, and there is no one better at fitting them to this condition. With Jeffrey's help, Turner went from 20/600 vision to 20/15.
Thank you to Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler and his amazing staff for saving my son's sight.
Thank you to Steven Holcomb for writing the book that played out as a roadmap for me to follow.
Thank you to Dr. Jeffrey Sonsino and his amazing staff for patiently fitting Turner in exactly the right prescription.
Keratoconus expert, Dr. Boxer Wachler operated on both Olympic Gold Medalist Steven Holcomb and my son, Turner Rowland, who both had Keratoconus and were both on the boat. If you have been diagnosed with Keratoconus or know someone who has, there is definitely something that can be done about it. Research Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler and read Steven's amazing book But Now I See...
You can also support the Steven Holcomb foundation (get more information by clicking here)
See you on the water,
Capt. Rich Tudor & Capt. Tom Rowland