My daughter's eye problem was first detected in the spring of 2004 during a routine kindergarten screening eye exam.  I was shocked when the technician told me that Carissa answered all the questions correctly using both eyes together and using the right eye only, but she missed all of the questions using only her left eye.
I was told that Carissa needed to see an eye doctor before she was to start kindergarten in the fall.

That summer I took her to an ophthalmologist who told me her vision was 20/20 in the right eye and 20/200 in the left.  We were told to order eyeglasses  and to make an appointment for a six week visit to see how she was adjusting to the new glasses.  When we returned for our six week visit, it was then that Carissa was diagnosed with amblyopia.  With her corrective lenses, Carissa was still only able to see 20/40 out of her left eye.  I was told that amblyopia is the medical term for what many call "lazy eye". 

Carissa's Patching Journey

Amblyopia is a problem that starts when the pathways of vision in the brain do not grow strong enough.  These pathways are being developed from birth to about the age of ten to twelve, and they carry vision messages from the eye to the brain.  In order for these pathways to develop correctly in the brain, the child needs to have a clear, focused image in both eyes.   If anything happens during this developmental period to blur the vision (i.e. the child needing corrective lenses, having crossed or wandering eyes, a droopy lid, or misaligned eyes), these vision paths to the brain will not develop properly.  In fact, these pathways may actually worsen.

In Carissa's case, the refractive errors in her left eye caused these pathways to become underdeveloped, thus leaving her unable to carry certain messages from the eye to the brain.  Her lenses corrected the eyesight problem, but what she saw with her eye was not carried to the brain for translation,  because the pathways to the brain were not fully developed.  In her case, I was told that we would need to patch Carissa's good eye, forcing the brain to develop these vision pathways in her weaker eye.

We left the office that day and began our patching journey.  We stopped by Walgreen's on the way home and bought our first box of adhesive patches, which costs about $8.00 for a month's supply.  I was told to have Carissa wear the patch for six hours a day.  After the third day of wearing these adhesive patches, Carissa's skin was so raw and irritated that she screamed when it was time to take it off.  I knew this was not going to work, but what were the alternatives?  I called our eye center and was told of some patches that could be ordered.  They were not the best looking, but since she did not have to wear them to school, we were not so concerned with how they looked at this point.  We just needed patches that were comfortable.  We ordered several colors of these felt-type patches and used a vinyl pirate-type patch in the meantime.  We were so excited the day her patches came in the mail.  They were much more comfortable and made the experience so much better.

Our next two visits to the eye doctor were quite disheartening.  After patching six hours a day for four months, Carissa still had made no visual improvement in her weak eye.  At this point, our pediatric ophthalmologist wanted us to try a clouded sticker that went over the lens to blur vision all the time in her good eye.  This little sticker cost $20.00 for two, and it usually has to be replaced at least every two weeks.  Although this was costly, I was willing to do whatever it would take to improve my daughter's eyesight.  Unfortunately, this did not work for her.  She simply dipped her head down and looked above her lenses instead of through them.  I noticed this, and her teacher also mentioned she was doing this at school.  To no surprise but another disappointment, there was still no improvement at her next visit.

At this point, our specialist decided to go back to patching instead of the clouded lens sticker, but this time she needed to patch all day but two hours.  My heart sank when I thought about Carissa having to wear a patch to school.  Realizing how cruel kids can be, I did not want Carissa's first year of school to be a negative experience.  However, I knew gaining her full eyesight was the most important thing.  It was during this time that I decided to make my own cloth patches for her.  The patches we ordered before were comfortable, but they were difficult to wash.  The felt-like material pilled, but I had to wash them anyway.  Like any worn garment, the outside and the inside layer touching the skin gets dirty.  I was also not very fond of the brightly-colored felts used.  In my opinion, they drew too much attention to the problem.  I wanted to make patches out of more subtle colored machine-washable fabrics that would compliment a child's wardrobe, not detract from it.  Since Carissa mainly wore jeans to school, I decided to come up with several designs made from different-colored, durable denims. I also designed special fancy patches made from faux suedes and velveteens for a more formal look to wear with church dresses.  This made patching fun!  All of Carissa's girl friends loved the different designs that complimented her daily outfits, and they all looked forward to seeing what new patch Carissa would wear to school each day.

We had finally heard some good news at our next appointment.  By wearing the patches I had made, Carissa's eyesight had significantly improved to a 20/30 in just two months!  We were so excited!  That day she also had a full eye exam, and her prescription had also improved.  Her doctor said to keep on doing what we were doing since it was working, and to come back in two more months.  During this time, I continued making different patch designs and styles for Carissa, and I even started making matching patches for Carissa's twin doll.  This comforted Carissa during the patching process to know she was not alone in this journey.  She had a patching pal!  Plus, now her twin doll really looked like her twin in every way.

Carissa's eyesight continued to improve over the next two months.  By her next doctor visit, Carissa's eyesight had reached 20/25--usually the best that can be expected with most amblyopia patients!  All of this improvement only took a total of four months wearing the patches that I had made.  Now Carissa does not have to wear her patches anymore.  We have them put away safely in her memory box.  We continue to periodically see the ophthalmologist to make sure there is no digression.  Her ophthalmologist said that with her corrective lenses, her eyesight is normal.  If we were to take her to another eye doctor in the future, he would have no reason to suspect that Carissa ever had amblyopia.

The doctors and specialists at our eye center were so impressed with my eye patches that they encouraged me to start my own business and sell them to their patients and to surrounding eye centers.  Our eye center now sells my patches to their patients in their optical department.   

I hope our story will encourage you to hang in there through your eye-patching journey.  Remember that compliance is the most important factor in the successful treatment of this eye condition.  The child has to keep the patch on, and in many cases, a majority of the day, in order to develop the needed pathways of vision between the eye and the brain.  I am just so thankful that I found a way to make my "lil pun' kin" feel as comfortable and confident as possible during this journey.  I hope that I can do the same for you!