By Jennifer Lawinski Apr 30th 2010
A ground-breaking, non-surgical procedure has been shown to restore sight to people with certain degenerative eye conditions.
It even restored the sight of an Olympic gold medalist.
Olympian Steve Holcomb, whose four-man bobsled team -- nicknamed "Night Train" -- broke the U.S. team's 62-year gold medal dry spell, may be the only American Olympian in history to have a medical procedure named for him.
And it was that very procedure -- used to treat a condition called keratoconus, which weakens the cornea -- which gave Holcomb the ability to compete in the first place.
Holcomb officially retired from the U.S. Bobsled Team in June 2007 when his vision deteriorated to the point of virtual blindness, and he didn't want to risk the team's safety by continuing to compete.
The team, however, wanted Holcomb back.
Cornea transplants would have been out of the question if Holcomb were to return to the team. The surgery requires too much recovery time and the transplant would have been too delicate to allow Holcomb to return to the bumpy bobsled track.
That's when the team found Beverly Hills eye surgeon Brian Boxer Wachler, M.D., of the Boxer Wachler Vision Institute.
"They wanted to do what they could and see if there were any options to help restore his vision so that he could continue driving again," Boxer Wachler told AOL Health. "His team doctor had researched alternative treatments all over the world and ... that was how they found me in December of 2007."
Boxer Wachler had developed a procedure he called C-3R, a non-invasive treatment using vitamin applications and light to strengthen the cornea. Three months after the C-3R procedure Boxer Wachler also implanted insertable contact lenses in Holcomb's eyes to correct nearsightedness and further improve his vision.
After one C-3R treatment 99 percent of patients have restored vision, Boxer Wachler said. For that 1 percent, a second procedure often does the trick.
Holcomb's story -- and the positive response from people around the world -- led Boxer Wachler to rename the procedure the Holcomb C-3R in honor of the Olympian.
"We each, during and after the Olympics, have literally received thousands of emails and cards and Facebook messages from people all over the world telling us how inspired they are, how moved they are, hearing about this. It seems like a miracle to a lot of people," Boxer Wachler said.
For example, in the days after the Olympics, an article on Holcomb and his vision posted by the Dallas Morning News drew comments from readers who were grateful to learn of the procedure.
"Thank you for this article ... it may be an answer for my sister who is trying to save her eye sight as she has the same condition," wrote Margie McKinley.
"It's been very humbling for both Steve and me to know that our story has had such an effect on people around the world. I think its not just about bobsledding, it's about people who have challenges in life and showing they can be overcome."
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