Carson Valley men start own support group
The leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 65 affects more Americans than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
More than 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, and several of those patients live in the Carson Valley.
Howard Godecke, 75, and Vic Hyden, 73, friends who had worked together on the board of trustees of the Carson Valley Historical Society, discovered they both had macular degeneration and decided to form a support group to share and disseminate information.
Godecke said it was Hyden who discovered his disease first. As a teacher, Hyden was interested in learn
ing everything he could about the condition. In Hyden’s quest for information, he had been to many opthalmologists and specialists around the country and had a wealth of information, Godecke said. The two thought a support group would be the best way to disperse this information on their frustrating condition.
“It was amazing to me how many people have macular degeneration and either don’t know they have it or are in denial about the possibility,” Godecke said.
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration – “dry” and “wet.” Both are a result of a deterioration of the macula, which is the central part of the retina – the projection screen of the vision system. The end result is that the patient experiences a loss in the central area of their field of view.
“When I get up in the morning and open my eyes, there is a big black blob in the center of everything I look at,” Godecke said. As the day progresses, he said, the blob gives way to a less obstructive distortion – sometimes what he describes as “swirly lights and stars,” but the central area of his field of view is still affected.
Dry age-related macular degeneration accounts for 90 percent of total cases. It occurs when small yellowish deposits called “drusen” accumulate under the macula, causing a breakdown of the light-sensing cells. This type progresses more slowly, but there is no cure.
The second type, wet AMD, is less common and occurs when tiny, new abnormal blood vessels begin to grow behind the retina. Bleeding may take place and cause the macula to bulge. Sight loss may be rapid and severe, but laser surgery can sometimes help this condition.
Macular degeneration occurs more commonly in people with light-colored eyes. Individuals with a history of AMD in their families should have eye exams beginning at the age of 45.
The cause of age-related macular degeneration is largely unknown. There does seem to be some genetic predisposition, and diet has been studied as a possible contributor to the syndrome.
Godecke’s mother, Esther, had macular degeneration for the last 12 years of her life. Godecke, who had been living and working in Sacramento, came back to his birthplace, the Carson Valley, to take care of her and “be her eyes.”
Last year, nearly five years after her death, Godecke discovered the symptoms in his own vision. A landscape designer, he said the AMD does not cripple his work since he deals with large, panoramic scenes.
“It really affects people who work in fine detail more than someone like me,” he said. “If I were, say, a dentist, I would eventually have to quit.”
Artist Georgia O’Keeffe had macular degeneration and continued to paint into her 80s.
The American Macular Degeneration Foundation recommends six health tips to aid in possibly preventing age-related macular degeneration:
n Eat large quantities of dark green leafy vegetables – spinach and collard greens are two of the best.
n Protect your eyes from UV light.
n Don’t smoke.
n Eat a low fat diet.
n Exercise regularly.
n Take a good anti-oxidant vitamin supplement.
The Carson Valley Macular Degeneration Support Group meets the first Wednesday of every month at 11:30 a.m. in the downstairs meeting room of the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center, 1477 Highway 395 in Gardnerville.
Dr. Richard Newbold, an emergency room physician and acquaintance of Godecke who has taken an interest in learning more about AMD as a result, will lead a discussion on the latest scientific efforts toward treatment and cure at the Feb. 4 meeting.
Anyone with questions or an interest in the subject is welcome and encouraged to attend. Phone 782-2559 for more information.
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