Mother learns son living with eye disease for more than 15 years

After coming home from her son’s eye exam, Martine Piraino rushed to the computer. Hoping to find a success story, she typed Keratoconus into the search engine and began reading the results. Panic washed over her. The words no cure, depression and transplant plastered the screen. The seriousness seeped in: her son had an eye disease, and if nothing was done he would go blind. 

The disease: Keratoconus. 

The meaning: a progressive eye disease where a normally round cornea thins and begins to form into a cone-like shape, deflecting light and causing distorted vision. The disease’s cause is still unknown.

Like 73 per cent of Canadian parents, Martine did not rank eye exams as a top priority for her children. It was not until her son received his diagnosis that she realized the importance of eye health and regular comprehensive eye exams. 

Matteo started scratching his eyes when he was six – a common, but little known symptom of some cases of keratoconus. Thinking it was allergies, Martine took him to an allergist. To her surprise, he was cleared of any allergic reactions.

The family chalked up Matteo’s eye irritation to a quirk, since it never disappeared. In fact, the itching kept getting worse. “I thought he was just tired from playing all those video games,” explained Martine. “Sometimes my daughter would complain saying, ‘he rubs so hard, I can feel it when he scratches.’” 

When Matteo turned 20 he started to display a more worrying symptom. 

“Matteo was out shopping for a new laptop with his sister. He was having a hard time reading the price tags, so my daughter told me he might need glasses,” Martine explained.  

Martine booked him an appointment with an optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam, thinking Matteo’s sight was the problem. 

“The first optometrist diagnosed Matteo with Keratoconus. We went for a second opinion and got the same diagnosis. We were told that a surgery called crosslinking would stop the disease’s progression. So, that’s what we did.” 

 Non-surgical options exist to improve vision, including the use of special hard contact lenses that help compensate for the irregular shape of the corneas.  However, cross linking is often the only option to prevent the worsening of the condition for many young patients with keratoconus. 

 Even after his successful crosslinking surgery, the vision Matteo lost will never return. He will also need to continuously wear the hard contact lenses to maintain vision.
“Had we taken him to the optometrist sooner, the disease would have been caught and his vision saved,” shared Martine. 

 The Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) recommends every child receive a comprehensive eye exam starting at 6 months, again at age three, and every year thereafter. Eye exams should be undergone every two years for adults and annually for seniors. The exams are covered annually by OHIP until the age of 20 and again starting at age 65.  For patients 20-64 years of age, OHIP covers annual eye examinations for patients with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.

ecent research conducted by OAO found that only one in two Ontarians has had a comprehensive eye exam in the past 12 months. This is alarming, considering that many eye diseases either have subtle symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Like Matteo, many patients find that by the time they notice a change in vision, the vision loss is irreversible.

Martine’s advice: “Eye exams are just as important as a physical. Going to the optometrist is part of completing the whole medical package. And parents, please get your children’s eyes checked. You don’t want to see your child suffer.”  

Find an optometrist near you.