Rebecca Hatcher, a retired math teacher from Virginia, is an example of the recent strides made to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
In 2007, she was diagnosed with neovascular AMD (also called wet AMD) in her left eye. Eventually, both eyes became involved. In neovascular AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the retina, a layer of tissue in the back of your eye that senses light and sends images to your brain. (“Neovascular” means “new vessels.”) These vessels can leak fluid and blood, which may lead to swelling and damage of the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. The damage can be rapid and severe.
She was scared.
Just 10 years ago, people diagnosed with neovascular AMD almost always lost their vision in the affected eye and were likely to lose vision in their other eye, too.
Fortunately for Hatcher, her diagnosis came just as new drugs were helping people preserve their vision. She reached out to the National Eye Institute (NEI) for help.
Today Hatcher enjoys a corrected vision of 20/35 in her left eye and 20/20 in her right.
Her journey with AMD began in 2000 when her older sister developed wet AMD and totally lost central vision in her left eye, despite treatment. Hearing that, Hatcher contacted NEI and said she would like to participate in any AMD-related studies.
Her doctor was already monitoring her condition and had given her an Amsler grid to use every day.
By early 2001, she was part of a study of the dietary supplement lutein. At the end of that study, she made herself available for any future study for which she qualified.
“In 2007, I was asked to be in the five-year AREDS2 study at NEI,” Hatcher recalls. “At one of my first examinations I was told that I now had wet AMD and would need to start injections of Lucentis in my left eye. To that point, I had no symptoms that I noticed. No one wants to hear that kind of diagnosis, but I knew I was in the best facility in the country.
“On June 16, 2010, I received the first injection in my right eye. In 2016, after having received almost 100 injections, I am doing OK. I can still drive, which is the most important thing for me.”
Hatcher also participated in the Comparison of AMD Treatments Trials (CATT) study. It was a clinical trial that compared the safety and effectiveness of Lucentis and Avastin, two drugs used to treat advanced AMD.
“I hope that NEI has received some information from me to help with research,” Hatcher says. “I continue with my treatment there as part of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 extension. My advice to anyone with an AMD diagnosis is to remain diligent with treatment. See your doctor every three months as changes happen. Get the injections as often as necessary. They do not hurt.”