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Andrea Lawson, Neuro-Ophthalmology Patient

Never forgetting the whole patient matters.


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Andrea Lawson, Neuro-Ophthalmology Patient“Dr. Gilbert kept on investigating my eye problem until she discovered my condition,” says Andrea Lawson, a 49-year-old administrative assistant for Chicago State University's Department of Engineering Studies. “She made me feel like somebody cared.”

Lawson began meeting with Dr. Molly E. Gilbert, Assistant Professor and member of the Neuro-Ophthalmology Service, in the fall of 2007 for vision problems that had bothered her for about a month. Unsatisfied with her previous doctors, she was relieved to quickly feel comfortable with her new doctor at UIC.

“She explained everything to me about my situation, was nice and made me feel that I didn't have to be afraid,” she says. “But she also prepared me for the worst case scenarios in a non-threatening manner.”

Initially, Lawson had been diagnosed with optic nerve problems. However, after Dr. Gilbert looked closely at her medical history, it turned out that Lawson had also recently been diagnosed with asthma. Since her history was not consistent with other causes of optic nerve damage and she had a lung problem, says Gilbert, Lawson underwent a work-up for sarcoidosis, which was her diagnosis.

Sarcoidosis can affect the heart, lungs, joints, skin and eyes. Between 5 percent and 50 percent of patients present this condition with eye trouble—usually uveitis or inflammation. Indeed, up to 10 percent of patients develop neurosarcoidosis, which can affect the eyes, cranial nerves and brain. It can be very serious and cause endocrine problems, seizures, headaches and blindness, says Gilbert. The comedian Bernie Mac, who recently passed away from an unrelated pneumonia, suffered from sarcoidosis.

According to Lawson, Gilbert sent her to “every doctor in the world before the final diagnosis,” she laughs. Now she is also receiving treatment from a pulmonary specialist and a rheumatologist as a result of her testing.

Lawson says that Gilbert prepared her for what to expect with her condition, such as decreased depth perception and the sensation of paper being pulled over her eyes at night time. She takes Prednisone, a high-dose steroid, to prevent further spreading of the sarcoidosis.

“My condition affects me every day,” says Lawson. “I feel fine, but now I have to take precautions and think about things before I do them. I just move at a slower pace. And I know Dr. Gilbert's only a phone call away, so I don't worry about it.”

After treatment, Lawson's visual function did not return to normal, but it has not gotten worse. “This experience taught me the importance of never forgetting that the whole patient matters,” says Gilbert. “Even though eye doctors are very specialized, the overall health of their patients can be affected by our diagnosis and treatment.”

by Megan Pellegrini

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