Seeing the light

From our archives: December 31, 2005

SUSIE NORDQVIST
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013
Southland Times photo
JILL McKEE/Fairfax NZ
Brian Corfield.

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Results of a trial in the US suggest that not only does the drug Macugen halt the progression of blindness for most people, it can also help improve the vision of some. Brian Corfield is not your typical 31-year-old. He doesn't drink, work or drive and his diet is one any advocate for healthy eating would be proud of. But it's not by choice. Southland Times reporter Susie Nordqvist talks to Mr Corfield to find out why.

For most people tomorrow brings with it the chance to reflect on the year that's been.

It also offers the chance to set goals for 2006.

For Brian Corfield the start of the New Year brings the possibility that relief may be at hand from a condition that has plagued him since he was a youngster. The 31-year-old suffers from diabetes.

The extent of his condition means his vision has been affected, to a level where he can't work or drive.

But Brian is optimistic _ at least in terms of regaining some of his sight.

This month he was among the first in the country to undergo a revolutionary treatment designed to reverse the effects of the eye disease macular degeneration.

Results of a trial in the United States suggest that not only does the drug Macugen halt the progression of blindness for most people, it can also help improve the vision of some. Brian said he was just grateful to have been given the chance for a better quality of life.

Last year he ended up in Dunedin Hospital with pneumonia, collapsed lungs, a weakened liver and a slight stroke down the left side.

His mother Esme recalls the struggle by doctors to bring her son back to life.

"He passed away five times, " she said.

The scenario was not a new one for the Corfield family.

When Brian was diagnosed with diabetes in 1993 he was given three to six months to live and weighed just 27kg.

He recuperated.

Doctors have since said they have never seen anyone recover so fast.

Today Brian is looking forward to the new year with a more positive outlook on life thanks largely to the work of former Invercargill eye specialist Mylan VanNewkirk.

"I give him a 12 out of 10, " Brian said of Mr VanNewkirk's ability.

The Dunedin-based eye specialist established the links in the US which made it possible to bring Macugen into New Zealand.

At the time of his treatment Brian was told his sight might improve and it might not.

So far, so good.

Just one week after treatment and Brian said he felt he had made good progress.

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The cost of each vial is about $700, making the cost to the patient per dose relatively cheap.

Until recently the only known other treatment useful in helping reduce the effects of macular degeneration was an operation with the price tag of about $10,000.

BEFOREHAND I could not see anything from the middle of my left eye.

"It was just like a blurred cloud, whereas now I'm starting to pick up the odd bit, " he said.

Brian will have more treatment in February.

Macugen is purchased in 400mg vials from which 1.25mg doses are given.

The cost of each vial is about $700, making the cost to the patient per dose relatively cheap.

Macugen has also proven effective on the two thirds of patients who have been treated in New Zealand to date.

Until recently the only known other treatment useful in helping reduce the effects of macular degeneration was an operation with the price tag of about $10,000.

Brian felt it was an operation worth saving up for given the circumstances.Not only can he not work or drive, he is also unable to drink. He has to inject himself twice daily and has been advised to quit smoking.

Until his month-long stint in hospital last year, Brian was doing all of those things _ except working and driving.

He now admits he has "seen the light" and perhaps if he had given up alcohol earlier, then his condition might not be so extensive.

And if he hadn't given it up at all? "He'd be in a box by now, " Mrs Corfield said.

Brian explains he was young and naive and perhaps if his story could help others recognise the importance of following medical advice, then all the better.

He also urges those who are offered Macugen as a treatment for vision loss to "go for it" .

"There's hope yet, " he said.

MACULAR DEGENERATION

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the western world.

Now, for the first time researchers are confident they've found a treatment that offers real hope for sufferers of the disease.

So what is macular degeneration and what is the treatment? Blindness is caused by the formation of tiny blood vessels under the retina, around its most sensitive part, namely the macula. The macula is a 3-5mm area in the retina that is responsible for central vision.

It is the part of people's vision that is used to recognise faces and watch television.

Once these vessels are formed, they have a tendency to grow, bleed and leak fluid.

The treatment, Macugen, has been designed to try to reduce the growth of these blood vessels and therefore stop any leakage.

The treatment consists of a small injection into the eye of a substance known as Bevacizumab.

Apart from a mild feeling of discomfort at the time of the injection and some redness, patients should not experience any real pain nor should they notice any marked deterioration in their vision.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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