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Liz’s story

Liz French was diagnosed with glaucoma in 2015 and used the buddy scheme for support when she was told she needed surgery. She found the scheme so helpful that she decided to become a buddy herself.

I cannot put into words how much the buddy scheme helped me.

Following an unsuccessful cataract operation on my left eye, which I had done in France, I experienced a detached retina. I was using steroid drops and I understand these can raise the pressure in the eye. Even after ceasing the drops, the pressure remained higher than normal. I had regular checks with my retinal surgeon, who found that the pressure was on the high side of normal in both eyes, but worse in my left eye. The pressure suddenly spiked, and I was diagnosed with glaucoma in my left eye. I now have glaucoma in both eyes, and don’t have complete vision in my left one.

I felt very scared when I was diagnosed. My question to the surgeon was ‘why me?’. Until the need for a cataract operation, my eyes and eyesight had always been perfect. I now feared losing my sight.

By 2018 it was clear that drops weren’t going to keep my eye pressure under control. In August 2018, it became apparent that I would need surgery, starting with a selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) on both eyes. My husband suggested I contact glaucoma UK about the buddy scheme when he was faced with me in tears over the thought of having operations on my eyes. I felt completely terrified. Unless you have glaucoma, I think it must be hard to realise how scary it can feel. Before my encounter with the disease, I was scared to even put a drop in my eye!

I cannot put into words how much the buddy scheme helped me. I was a tearful wreck, despite my surgeon saying SLT was not as bad as retinal surgery. Speaking to someone who had first-hand experience of having the surgery was reassuring and made all the difference. The more you can find out about something, the easier it becomes to deal with it.

Unfortunately, the SLT did not solve the problem, and I have since gone on to have a cataract operation and trabeculectomy on my right eye, and a Baerveldt tube implant on my left eye. Afterwards, I wondered what I had been worried about. I was amazed at how easy the surgeries were and how quickly I was back to normal. In fact, I was doing one-eyed knitting a few hours after the operations!

Having a buddy made such a difference that I decided to become a buddy myself. I know how frightening it is to think of operations on your eyes, and how devastating it is to think you might lose your sight. I enjoy being a buddy and feel privileged to help others. It’s so important to make people realise that we are very fortunate to have treatments available that work.

Since having the operations, I often forget that I have glaucoma. I have field tests and pressure checks every six months and can see my eyes are stable, which gives me a lot of confidence. Life would be difficult with only the sight in my left eye, but my right eyesight is good, and both together work well enough for me to do everything I wish to.

We are all going to get something wrong with us as we get older, I consider myself to be lucky that my health issue is glaucoma. If treated early, it does not impact greatly on your life. We are fortunate that it is such a common problem and so much research has been done into the subject. I have been amazed at how many people I have come across in my daily life who also have glaucoma.

My advice to anyone thinking of using the buddy scheme would be to speak to a buddy as soon as you can. And if you have been through surgery and want to help people, why would you not become one too?