It was a small brief in the newspaper: “Argus sports coordinator takes top honors… again.” It talked about how our sports coordinator, Brady Ambrose, for the second straight year in a row won first place for Best Sports Photo and second place for Best Spot News Photo in the Wisconsin Better Newspaper Contest.
It’s a nice accolade and gives a professional nod to the work Brady produces. But for our family it means so much more.
In the fall of 2011 Brady started having vision problems. His ability to capture moments of great meaning to athletes, and parents of athletes, participating in high school sports all starts with the ability to see a moment and capture it with the camera. Someone once told me that it’s nice to have your picture in the paper beyond your birth announcement and obituary. It’s meaningful to clip tidbits out that memorialize your child’s name on the honor roll or the awesome play he made during a soccer game.
We get that. We want to capture special moments for families and put them in the paper to celebrate. As Brady came to the realization that something was really wrong with his vision, he knew it could dramatically impact his ability to see and shoot these special moments. So, to the specialist he went seeking a diagnosis and hopefully a cure.
“I had noticed over the last few months that what I thought was dirt and dust floating in the air was actually something in my left eye. Whenever I looked up or to the side, I would see something – a small dark spot or spots that seemed to be floating around in there.
“I didn’t tell anybody about it, but I had a good idea what was going on.
“I’ve been a Type 1 diabetic since I was six years old; through the last 44 years I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have not developed any of the major problems that come with being a diabetic: blindness, loss of a limb, kidney failure, heart attack, etc.
“But one of the major complications of the disease is diabetic retinopathy, which damages the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue of the retina (the back of the eye). At first, diabetic retinopathy may cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. Eventually, however, diabetic retinopathy can result in blindness,” Brady wrote in a newspaper column then.
It’s true; he didn’t tell anyone what was going on – even his wife. So when he came home after that doctor appointment I was shocked to learn he needed surgery to stop the problem and hopefully improve his ability to see. The ensuing appointments were not pleasant.
“For the next three Wednesdays, I traveled to La Crosse to undergo the most bizarre and intense treatment I have ever received – something called ‘scatter laser treatment.’
“My doctor told me that after years of diabetes, blood vessels in the back of diabetics’ eyes begin to burst; and over time it will leave pools of blood in their eyes. When this happens, the body sends out a signal to begin growing new blood vessels to replace the damaged ones. The vessels basically grow in no certain direction and will take over your eye over time.
“The laser shrinks the abnormal blood vessels by blasting the areas of the retina away from the macula with scattered laser burns. The burns cause the abnormal new blood vessels to shrink and scar.
“Sounds great, but the problem lies in the actual procedure. After my eyes were dilated, the nurses numbed them. Numbing drops were continually poured in until they ran down the side of my face. At one point I knew the drops were going in because I realized my eyes were still open and I could see them going in, but I couldn’t feel them.
“The doctor placed a large lens in my eye, even though I couldn’t feel it, and it kept my eye open. Some kind of gel was then put in, and a long tube with a laser on the end crept closer and closer.
“I felt continuous pressure on my eye, but I figured it was just the result of the laser beam melting my eyeball. I learned later that it’s caused by the doctor pushing the laser against my eye. It was one of the most painful things I have ever undergone and it went on and on for 15 minutes.”
As Brady’s wife I felt helpless. What do you do when you know your husband is in pain; you know he has to go back for more treatments; and you know if he doesn’t he could eventually become blind?
We got through it like all families do when faced with medical problems, and Brady is certainly seeing better than he did back then. There are residual disturbances, he says, in bright, outdoor light; the procedure was never deemed a cure. It was simply a method to stop progression of the disease. It may resurface someday. Heck, I may have cancer someday, too, or get hit by a car or have a stroke. The important thing is: As life presents severe obstacles – and it probably will at some point – it’s important to celebrate little victories, to cherish the simplest joys.
For our family, Brady’s award is truly something to be thankful for and recognize as special. We hope to keep making special moments for other families in the newspaper, too.
You can contact Emily Bialkowski at [email protected]