Loss of sight is always a medical emergency – and seeing is believing


On Friday, February 17, 2023, photographer Jerry Robb woke up nearly blind in his right eye.

“As to be expected, I was terrified,” he said. “It has always been my singular nightmare.  My world is visual; my thought processes are in images, not words.  My career was first art/nature photography leading to years of commercial advertising photography, and I generally thought of myself as a visual artist.”

After an urgent same-day visit to his long-time optometrist and then to a local emergency department, he was told that there was no treatment for his vision loss and to hope for the best.

The next day, his vision was even worse, but his wife wasn’t ready to give up hope.

“This is where my medical story becomes a faith story. To maintain some sanity, I was working on acceptance of becoming a one-eyed person.  I achieved an unreasonable amount of peace much too quickly and easily, obviously from somewhere – not me. My wife Cathy was not so patient.”

Cathy made a phone call and a miraculous series of crucial connections were made, ultimately resulting in Jerry being instructed to immediately go to HCMC, where he recalls being “put in a wheelchair and whisked down a blur of hallways to a set of open, double doors. Standing inside the doors, as if in military formation, was a line of at least 10 people waiting to dive into me like I was the president of a country, not just another patient.  They hit me from all angles with questions, attached electrodes, and an IV.”

Third-year ophthalmology resident Dr. Laurence Ducker came in to examine Jerry and after a few tests, gave him the preliminary diagnosis of giant cell arteritis (GCA), a rare blood vessel disorder that can affect circulation and if left untreated, can cause sudden blindness.

“Sudden loss of sight is always a medical emergency,” said Dr. Ducker. “You should immediately get medical attention if you experience any sudden changes in vision, especially vision loss. Do not wait – it’s a matter of preserving your vision or diagnosing something else that may require intervention.”

Thanks to Dr. Ducker’s quick provisional diagnosis and treatment, Jerry’s vision loss was stopped and he has even regained some sight in his right eye.

“The field of vision I have now is on the edge of having function, especially including driving with focused binocular vision of the road ahead,” Jerry explains. “That is, my present irregularly shaped central window encompasses the straight-ahead angles and distances adequate for almost normal binocular driving, except for the right peripheral side, which being extra careful can mitigate.”

Jerry is extremely grateful for the access to a premier Level I Trauma Center and teaching hospital like HCMC to have ophthalmology experts like Dr. Ducker available 24/7 to address these types of life-changing concerns.

“And one sequential event after another proved to me God’s hand was involved: Dr. Ducker had the foresight and conviction to risk treatment for an as yet undetermined diagnosis; Dr. Abel, the neuro-ophthalmologist at Hennepin Healthcare, turns out to be one of the Midwest’s experts on GCA – and I was told that her position doesn’t exist in most hospitals.”

At one of his follow-up appointments with Dr. Abel, Jerry noted that she was the first one to use the word “miracle” when referring to his situation. He asked her if someday in the future he might become one of her success stories.

She laughed and said, “You already are! Most patients don’t get a potential diagnosis soon enough for treatment to reverse any vision loss.”

HCMC is also one of the organizations where research on GCA is being conducted – which Jerry believes is another miraculous connection to his experience. He shared his brush with blindness with the Star Tribune, and reflects on why he believes it’s important to tell his story:

“I believe we are all created by God, connected to each other and Him in a way of caring and love and consciousness that transcends our five senses, our bodies, our genders and any physical differences, our proximity, and even our ages. Maybe telling this story may help move others to live more peacefully in that awareness.”

Photo: Dr. Laurence Ducker, Jerry Robb, Dr. Rawad Nasr

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