~Living With Glaucoma Series – Meet Greg Alter~
After 26 challenging years, most recently losing all his vision in one eye, Greg Alter believes that people who live with glaucoma shouldn’t give up. He has hope, he says, that one day soon lost vision can be restored and people with glaucoma will get their vision back.
With the loving support of his family, and the ongoing advocacy and activism of his mother, Lela, Greg has courageously faced the issues of his life. He was born prematurely at 23 weeks, weighing only one pound. After spending 10 months in intensive care, and another four months in a rehab unit, he came home for the first time at 14 months. In an article he wrote while in high school, Greg thanks the doctors who saved his life and the therapists who helped him learn how to talk, walk, and use his hands. Because prematurity can also cause vision problems, he had a laser procedure as an infant and eye examinations annually.
One of the issues his parents advocated for was regular education. “We always wanted Greg to be mainstreamed,” Lela says. Greg agreed. He did well, finishing high school in New Jersey with good grades and a regular diploma. “We were planning for college,” says Lela Alter.
“But we weren’t aware that Greg had a spinal issue, a result of his prematurity,” she explains. When he returned from a trip to Israel in the summer of 2017 – a lifelong dream – the pain was excruciating. That led to paraplegia, and very difficult spinal surgery to avoid total paralysis.”
In 2019 Greg started to complain about flashes in his right eye,” Lela recalls. “We took him to three specialists who changed his eyeglass prescription, but there was no mention of glaucoma or the need to see a glaucoma specialist. Then Covid struck.
In June of 2021, Lela noticed that the right lens of Greg’s eyeglasses was slightly cracked, which, to her dismay, Greg hadn’t noticed. After just a few minutes at the ophthalmologist, the doctor said, “Your son does not have vision in his right eye.” Greg was diagnosed with closed-angle glaucoma.
“At that time, we knew nothing about glaucoma and I assumed his vision would return when his pressures lowered. Since then, Greg has seen ‘tons’ of glaucoma specialists– I’ve reached out to doctors all over the United States looking for hope.
We have had to change college plans. Greg took a class at Bergen Community College this summer – but it’s very difficult for him with his eyes right now given all the reading he has had to do. It has been daunting.”
For Lela’s part, she has become an ardent advocate for glaucoma awareness and intensified research so that vision restoration can be achieved. She prays it will happen during her son’s life span. She wants to make sure that children are tested for glaucoma at the earliest age possible – too many people still believe glaucoma is a disease of the elderly, she says. She asks others to speak up, to support research, and to urge research centers around the world to work together. “I have to believe that vision restoration can be accomplished,” she says. She looks to other diseases as examples of what advocacy and activism can achieve.