Last Wednesday was Tom’s visit with the ocularist. Tom’s left eye is microphthalmic and we have been wondering if an ocular shell could help him. Since Tom has an eye he doesn’t need a prosthetic, he needs an ocular shell which is a thin shell of plastic. It gives a better cosmetic appearance, but can also support bone development in the orbital (eye) area.
Some say having something that fills the space can actually feel better than being without. Tom does a bit of eye pressing with his fist. He doesn’t press hard, but he seems to find comfort holding his fist to his eye sometimes. This is not uncommon and it made me wonder if a shell would help.
Tom was scheduled for an evaluation with Walter Tillman, an ocularist here in Pittsburgh. Many people I know see him and he came well recommended. Tom is thrilled with any doctor appointment, so he was more than happy to see Mr. Tillman. I should clarify that Mr. Tillman is not a doctor, he is an ocularist: he creates prosthetic eyes and ocular shells for patients.
You must get a letter from your pediatric ophthalmologist saying why you might need an ocular shell and then fill out some pre-appointment paperwork before you are scheduled. Mr. Tillman’s office is located in town and it was fun to take Tommy downtown and see him navigate so well with his cane. I just wish people would do a better job of moving out of his way. I think sometimes they don’t understand that he’s really blind and that he will just walk into them if they don’t move. That has happened more than once! But it was a nice day and a great opportunity to test out his cane skills in sidewalk traffic. He did great.
Mr. Tillman is incredible with kids. He talked to us both and was very engaging with Tommy. (There’s nothing worse than a doctor that doesn’t speak to your child – you know, the patient! )You can tell he likes children. He asked about Tommy’s eye history and previous surgeries and examined Tommy’s eyes. He didn’t do anything invasive at all. I was surprised to hear him say that he did not recommend a shell for Tommy.
Since Tommy is already five his eyes are pretty much done growing, which makes the idea of stimulating facial bones a non-issue. Tom’s left eye is smaller but has a good cosmetic appearance. Even after several vitrectomies and glaucoma surgeries his eye still looks pretty good, which is impressive. Mr. Tillman was surprised by the number of eye conditions and surgeries Tom has had, but he was happy that he would not have to add another procedure to his list.
The size of Tom’s micro eye would require a very thin shell which he thought would probably be uncomfortable to wear. If Tom was 14 and wanted to wear a shell he would be happy to make it, but Tom is five and does not care. So maybe we will call on Dr. Tillman one day to create an ocular shell for Tommy, but not anytime soon. I am relieved that this is one process we don’t have to worry about for now.
He said Tommy’s visit made his day. I’m sure he did because Tom was his usual perky self and I know that Mr. Tillman often sees people dealing with the traumatic loss of an eye. Doctor appointments and specialist visits are fairly routine for Tom; it’s just how his life is. But I’m glad everyday for Tom’s incredible positivity and outgoing nature. He really does leave people happier after having met him.
Resources for Artificial Eyes and Ocular Shells
Artificial Eyes – a site created by ocularists to provide information and support.
Lost Eye – a discussion and support group for people who have lost an eye