~Living With Glaucoma Series – Meet Hillary Golden~
Until two years ago, Hillary Golden, a Louisianan living in Denver, didn’t know a lot about eyes, and even less about glaucoma. But what a difference two years can make! Today, as a 53-year-old with severe glaucoma, her life is steeped in learning as much as she can and spreading the word about glaucoma, specifically about normal-tension glaucoma (NTG).
“I have been in medical sales my entire career,” Hillary explains – “from selling CT scan equipment to medical software.” She was training oral surgeons on computer-guided surgery in 2020 when elective surgeries were halted due to the Covid pandemic. She was furloughed for four months. It was during that period at home that she noticed a stye on her eyelid and decided to get it checked out.
“I had the time, so I agreed to do a more comprehensive eye exam. The assistant dilated my eyes. Then the doctor came in and looked in my eye and says ‘hmmm, I don’t like the look of your nerve.’ At this point, I knew nothing about eyes. They seemed more concerned about the nerve than about my stye. I remember that at about 11:45 she said: ‘I think you might have glaucoma.’
“I came back for a visual field test and OCT imaging test which confirmed that I had severe glaucoma – they said it was normal-tension glaucoma. A few days later I saw a glaucoma specialist who started me on eye drops. That was the beginning of a whole learning process. I wanted to research the heck out of it – what is normal tension, what does it mean? I thought only old people got glaucoma!”
Normal-tension glaucoma is a form of glaucoma in which the optic nerve is damaged even when the pressure does not exceed the normal range. “Because I was miserable on the drops, they said we could try SLT laser surgery, but that did not work. I had lost 40 percent of my visual field in both eyes at my diagnosis. The loss is in the upper nasal quadrant, so thankfully, I can still see and can drive.
“In 2021 I was traveling again, working for Allergan, selling a medical device for glaucoma. I got more involved with my eyes – I was talking to glaucoma doctors all day for work. This past February I changed jobs moving to Sight Sciences –working with the Omni MIGS surgical system for glaucoma. The reason I love my job is because I want to help other people through the doctors I call on every day. I also want people to know that normal-tension glaucoma (NTG) is different.
I personally mentor a couple of glaucoma patients and I am in several glaucoma support groups where I answer questions the best I can and give support to whoever needs it. In the U.S. normal-tension glaucoma accounts for about 30 percent of all glaucoma cases.
“I’ve done a lot of research on my own. There’s a prominent doctor in Switzerland who has done research on the role of vascular dysregulation in NTG and he’s been helping me. I also have a doctor in Denver and one in South Dakota. I’ve tried to seek out the gurus of normal tension…I have to try everything.
“I have a home tonometer – I think this is going to be the norm – measuring IOP three or four times a year in the doctor’s office just isn’t often enough. It’s super important for my pressures to be super low – they need to be 9 or 10. I have a tech background. But not everyone is tech savvy – more doctors need to have a technician to help patients set up their tonometers.
“I’ve also become a certified health coach. I know it’s going to help that I eat well and take care of myself in other ways, but it’s frustrating. I’ve lost so much vision and I sit in the waiting room with all these other patients who are 20 years older than me, and my eyes are worse than theirs. It’s stressful thinking about what my eyes will look like in 20 years. Losing vision is a scary thing — I’m doing everything I can to preserve what I have left.”
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