By Tony Russell at 4029 News
ROGERS, Ark. -- One business right in our back yard is drawing worldwide attention, a chance for people suffering from an eye disease to see again. Right now nothing can cure macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes vision loss in the elderly. One therapy in Northwest Arkansas is trying to offer an alternative option that some patients say can bring back their vision.
"Well how would you feel if your doctor says you're going blind, but you won't go completely blind ... it's a real devastating thing to have happen to you," Leota Boyce, who travels from Lake of the Ozarks, said.
Doctors diagnosed Boyce with macular degeneration after she started having problems seeing. "When I first started coming, my straight lines weren't straight, they were waving at me," Boyce said. She is a part of a group of patients diagnosed with the disease who travel the distance to get acupuncture from Lizbeth Ryan, a licensed acupuncturist, who moved to Rogers to treat her patients. "It really couldn't be a nicer place, it's really central to my patients, I have a lot of patients in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi," Ryan, owner of Arkansas Acupuncture Center, said. People have traveled from as far as Europe to receive treatments for eye diseases like macular degeneration. "It's amazing, I've met people from all over the country here, someone from Mexico, someone from Spain, Canada, but just all over the country," Donna Davis, who travels from Chicago, said. Davis travels from Chicago and said she'd go anywhere to get help with her vision loss. "Kind of strange, you go where the help is, where you can get what you need and frankly if it was in Cupcake, Iowa, I would go, wouldn't make any difference. Especially coming from Chicago, I'm not coming here for the nightlife," Davis said. Acupuncture is when small needles are inserted all over your body. In this case, they are placed on the hands and feet of Ryan's patients. Ryan specializes in treating patients with degenerative eye diseases. "This treatment in many cases helps to restore vision, it varies from patient to patient," Ryan said.
Traditional ophthalmologists like Dr. Chad Betts urge caution when patients seek alternative remedies for their eye diseases. Sometimes patients hit a wall when it comes to finding a cure.
"It worries me and it worries our patients, it's frustrating, and I know the patients get frustrated with it because they do. You know they've tried the traditional therapies, and we've done everything we can to recommend the evidence based approaches. At some point there's no other proven therapies out there," Betts said.
And more patients with signs of the disease are coming into his office. "It's something that we see quite a bit of and as the population ages. And the baby boomers come of age so to speak, we're going to see a whole lot more of it," Betts said.
Betts said he's skeptical but supportive of his patients looking for a way to ease the pain not being able to see. "I'm not personally supportive, just because I don't have experience with it, and I really haven't seen any evidence that it is proven. It's not something that I'm recommending for a patient, like I say I wouldn't hinder them from doing it," Betts said. "I have a few patients that have doctors who say, get acupuncture, its helping you for your eyes, many of my patients will say well my doctor doesn't know how it works and he [the doctor] says if it seems to help then keep doing it," Ryan said.
Her patients said this was their last resort….
"My kids thought I was crazy to start with, but you grasp at straws when there's no hope of being able to see better. Because there was no treatment, so you grasp at straws," Boyce said. Betts said new treatments like gene therapy and the insertion of micro-telescopes are in development by the medical community for the treatment of macular degeneration. Doctors said if you're seeing vision loss but don't know if it's macular degeneration, stop in for a routine eye exam. They said a regular visit could catch the disease early.