August 15, 2008

Cataract surgery helps patient see her second century clearly

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Cataract surgery helped Marjorie Orth, 102, remain active. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Cataract surgery helps patient see her second century clearly

A few years ago, Marjorie Orth was informed that the cataract developing in her left eye would only get worse.

She began using a magnifying glass for two of her favorite activities: reading and working crossword puzzles. But when her cloudy vision began interrupting her daily tasks, she turned to cataract specialist Laura Wayman, M.D., at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute for treatment options.

Cataract symptoms often can be corrected with eyeglasses if detected early, but this was not an option for Orth. Instead, she was a candidate for cataract surgery, a common procedure to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one. VEI performs more than 2,000 such surgeries each year. The average age for cataract surgery is between 60 and 70, said Wayman.

Orth, however, was nearing 102.

“They left the decision up to me,” said Orth. “But it wasn't much of a decision because I wanted it done. I wanted to be able to see.

“They told me there was a chance that it would not work, but I figured it was worth finding out. Although no one told me they were concerned because of my age, I think they were. I guess not many people have this done at the age of 101.”

Wayman, assistant professor of Comprehensive Ophthalmology at VEI, said prior to Orth, her oldest cataract surgical patient was 96. She said Orth would be a great role model for older patients with similar vision problems.

“She is 101 and living life,” said Wayman, also director of Resident Education. “She is not stuck on her age and does what she wants. She really loves to read and that was the goal for her, to be able to read comfortably.”

The surgery was in April and Orth was the perfect patient, Wayman said.

“She did great both in surgery and with recovery. I think with anyone, surgery is a fear, and losing your vision is a huge fear. But Ms. Orth was fantastic. The message she highlights is that age should not be a limitation. If you still have things you want to do, don't use your age to stop you,” Wayman said.

Orth is ecstatic about the success of her cataract surgery.

“There was really nothing to it. People would be absolutely amazed just how well you can see. I was able to see as soon as the surgery was over. There was a lot of rigaramole with the drops and eye patches afterwards, but it was worth every bit of it.

“Now I don't need the large-print books anymore and my friends are all saying I'm a role model because I do what I want to do and I don't even use a walker,” said Orth, who will turn 102 in September.