We often talk about how God puts all the pieces of a puzzle together. Well sometimes He’s so awesome I don’t even know there is a puzzle.
I first met David about 9 years ago, right when we moved to Prescott. He was visiting his hometown with his lovely Filipino wife, Lorna. They were taking a small hiatus from the mission field. They met smuggling Bibles into Hong Kong and David told his buddy “I’m gonna marry that girl” when he first laid eyes on Lorna.
Stacy and I have been together since the day we met. Love at first sight can be a real thing.
David’s story is simply amazing and I encourage you to purchase his book, “The Space Between Memories.” He grew up in Prescott Valley and as he viewed pictures of China in a National Geographic magazine, he told his mom at age 3: “I’m going to take bread to the people of China.” She probably thought he meant physical bread. Little did she know he would spend twenty plus years on the mission field of southwestern China going to the far reaches of the Earth spreading the love of Jesus. His ministry, Within Reach Global, focuses on unreached people groups.
David started noticing his vision going bad a few years ago. He’d stop by the office when he was in town every couple years and we’d get him some glasses to get by. However, it started to become apparent this was more than just an eyeglasses or contact lens problem. Further testing revealed he had kerataconus. Rather than scouring google for info on kerataconus: just take 17 minutes and watch this Ted talk.
One evening 3-4 years ago I was walking through the grocery store when my phone started making a weird noise. “Skype call from David Joannes.” What in the world? “Uh. Hello?” “Hey Jon-it’s David Joannes.” “Aren’t you in China or Thailand.” “Yeah northern Thailand.” I realize just a few short years later this doesn’t sound so exciting but at the time it was unheard of to make calls over the internet. “My eyes are killing me and I’m really worried.” The pain, blurriness, and double vision were making it nearly impossible to read and work.
Professionally I felt completely useless. There’s no fixing this. I counseled him that he would not go blind which was a great relief. Worst case scenario he’d need a cornea transplant (donor tissue from a cadaver). That’s not a fun procedure but it’s there if needed. For someone who supplements his missionary income by writing and doing web design, having poor vision is even more daunting. Add a growing family to that income burden and it starts to get real.
Fast forward a few years. David contacted me again with more problems. I told him “let me know what days you’re available and I’ll fly you back to the States. I’ve been having great success fitting patients with kerataconus into scleral lenses.” It was hilarious. He flew over 24 hours, drove up to Prescott from Phoenix and we spent a couple hours putting big pieces of plastic in his eyes. He was a bit tired 🙂
We only had enough time for the initial fitting and one follow up due to the customized nature of the lens manufacturing process. It turned out OK…….well actually he did not do as well as any of my other patients.
I was distraught.
Looking back, I think I wanted to be the hero too much. I love what I do for a living. This was going to be an amazing story.
I was the one who was able to help one of my true heroes. A true Superman moment.
I literally lost sleep over David’s eyes for nearly two years. Stacy would tell me not to worry about it (“there’s nothing more to be done”) but I just couldn’t let it go. God was still in control but I sure didn’t like how He was driving this train. He had a plan…..and it was far better than I could have dreamed up myself.
Around that time the FDA started fooling around with finally approving Cornea Collagen Crosslinking aka “CXL” in the United States. This procedure is designed to strengthen the cornea so it will stop bulging out. Doctors in Europe have been doing it for decades.
Then Nick showed up to our office. He sees me for scleral lenses…..and does well with them. Nick had “Holcomb C-3R” performed by some doctor in Beverly Hills for his kerataconus 10 years ago. The Holcomb procedure is named after the late great Steve Holcomb who piloted the USA bobsled team to olympic gold. His career was saved from kerataconus by this doctor in Beverly Hills.
Then Jed came to see me a year later. 16 year old who couldn’t see the chalkboard any more. First eye exam and I tell him and his parents he has kerataconus, but fortunately it is mild and we caught it early. A year later it’s not mild and has advanced significantly in just a year. “Can I still go to med school if I can’t see well?” “Uhh….well…..” Then his mom stopped me in my tracks: “Dr. Bundy-what would you do if this were your child?”
I always counsel patients to ask that question when they see other doctors: “Dr.-what would you do if this were your__________(daughter, father, wife)?”
Back to Jed’s mom. I said, “I don’t know who does it and I’m not sure if it is FDA approved yet, but I’d find some way to get crosslinking done.” So I wrote down all the big words on a business card and gave it to her so she could google away. A crappy way to pass the buck for sure.
She emailed me the next day and said, “Have you ever heard of a Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler in Beverly Hills? He does something called ‘Holcomb C-3R’ which apparently is like crosslinking.” I spent hours that night researching Dr. Brian. Let me pause here and say I can’t tell you how many patients have told me that their previous doctor invented contact lenses, or invented LASIK or invented modern cataract surgery. It’s frankly amazing.
Yet here was a doctor who really did develop a procedure. A much needed procedure. A procedure rooted in research and backed by years of study. I’m a cynic at heart but this was the real deal.
I called Jed’s mom and said, “I’d be in Beverly Hills tomorrow.” He had the procedure done within a few months and is stable 18 months later.
My talk with kerataconus patients had changed immediately. Now I tell them: I can get you seeing as good as possible with scleral lenses but I highly recommend Holcomb C-3R for stabilization.
Well time flew by and eventually we got to spend a week with David in Thailand working in Karen refugee camps along the border of Burma.
It didn’t take long for me to notice him squinting, moving his phone and computer around trying to find a clear distance, and working to not rub his eyes. I decided to type up some emails before we even left Thailand and got in touch with Dr. Brian’s office.
Things moved fast. I called Dr. Brian’s office manager, Marie, from LAX airport on our way home. “I thought you were in Thailand.” “Yeah we were 16 hours ago.” Scheduling became very difficult as David needed to fly in from Thailand, but just yesterday he had his procedure completed.
I flew over so I could shake Dr. Brian’s hand and tell him thank you. That Ted talk I told you to watch: he’s the one giving it.
A day after David’s procedure, the vision in his worse eye had actually improved. We don’t expect that or promise it, but it is not unheard of. He’ll fly back to Thailand tomorrow to rejoin his wife and daughter. A few months down the road we’ll work on his scleral lenses but for now he can rest more easy knowing his kerataconus should be stable.
The Prescott Sunrise Lions and Prescott Cornerstone Church helped fund David’s travels for his care. For that we are forever grateful.