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Wake up and smell the herbs

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1999 - Winter


To the Editor:

With considerable hope and anticipation, I read your articles on vision research and treatment at Yale (A Closer Look at Sight, Fall 1998) in the last issue. My hope and anticipation were dashed.

You admit you’re not doing anything for wet or dry macular degeneration except using the laser blunderbuss, which doesn’t do the job at all. Why doesn’t such a lofty research institution explore all potential therapies, including the use of herbs for both types of macular degeneration?

I am 83 and in excellent health; five years ago I developed wet macular degeneration in my left eye. A highly regarded ophthalmologist blinded that eye with a laser. Knowing the danger to my good eye, I applied to two esteemed clinics for treatment. One refused me because my bad eye was too bad, and my good eye too good, for their FDA protocol. The other turned me down because I was taking Coumadin. So what was I to do?

I wrote about my plight in a Wall Street Journal article. Immediately I received about 200 letters and calls, one from a technical journalist in California. He encouraged me to try herbs to strengthen the walls of the little capillaries and to prevent the growth of unwanted capillaries. I have now been on herbs for three years, going on four. My own ophthalmologist in New York says my good eye is just as good as ever: I read without glasses, drive anywhere day or night and use distance glasses for golf four times a week.

Even though orthodox medicine frowns on much of alternative medicine, I would encourage Yale to explore herbal approaches in treating macular degeneration. It might open your eyes and help you help thousands, even millions, of other people keep their eyes open.

Woodrow Wirsig
Palm City, Fla.

Bruce Shields, Department chairresponds: Although ophthalmology has made great strides in the preservation of vision with regard to many disease processes, macular degeneration remains one for which we still have very little to offer our patients. The good news, however, is that this is one of the areas in which the greatest amount of research is being concentrated. I fully agree that our efforts should leave no stone unturned. At the Yale Eye Center, we have identified macular degeneration and related retinal disorders among our primary research targets, and we have both research scientists and clinician-scientists working diligently toward this goal.

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