Elizabeth Keell shares her experience of living with a sight-threatening condition since she was diagnosed with keratoconus more than two decades ago
15 June 2016
I was diagnosed with keratoconus, a condition that affects the cornea, in 1995. As I’ve since learnt, the condition causes the cornea to become thinner and more cone-like over time instead of having a rounder curve, which can change the shape of the cornea, causing blurred and distorted vision.
At first I noticed that I was struggling to see the board at school and started to develop severe headaches. Reluctantly I booked an eye test at my local opticians, only after my mum repeatedly told me to do so.
At the opticians, the optometrist could tell that there was a huge deterioration in my sight and I was prescribed glasses. However, despite wearing them, I was still struggling with my sight and consequently went back to the opticians. Originally, I simply thought that they had made an error with my prescription. However, during this second visit the practitioner seemed baffled and referred me to my local hospital for further testing.
It was during this hospital appointment that I was told I had keratoconus. At first I was shocked…I didn’t really know what the condition was and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to me, or my sight. As a 15-year-old, this was quite a tough experience. I had to go to hospital very regularly – every three months to start with – which meant that I took a lot of time out of my studies. It also affected my confidence as I had to wear thick contact lenses that I was very conscious of.
"At first I was shocked...I didn't really know what the condition was and I wasn't sure what was going to happen to me, or my sight. As a 15-year-old, this was quite a tough experience"
Living with the condition
Over the years, I’ve received nothing but fantastic care at the hospital and have been lucky enough to be under the care of the same ophthalmologist since I was first diagnosed. It has been nice to have the same person who has been through my fight for sight journey with me.
At the moment my vision is okay, but my left eye is deteriorating much faster than my right eye. I have been recommended for a cornea transplant. However, I must admit that I’m really hesitant to have this procedure done. Like any operation it can be quiet frightening and you have concerns and questions. What if the cornea rejects? How long would I have to be off work for? However, I do understand that if the deterioration continues this will be my only option.
Despite my condition, I really enjoy running and I completed the London Marathon for the eye research charity, Fight for Sight. I support this charity because eye research is very important to me. I have two small children, and if my keratoconus has been caused by genetics, one of my daughters may develop it. I feel that it’s crucial to find new, less invasive treatments that can help save people’s sight.
Fight for Sight is currently funding research into my condition which aims to develop stem cells therapies to repair the damage to the cornea, gene-replacement therapies and drugs that may be delivered as eye drops to repair faulty genes. Together we can help save the sight of future generations.
Elizabeth Keell supports Fight for Sight, the UK’s main eye research charity. For more information on the charity and the research that it supports, visit the Fight for Sight website.