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In My Own Words: Keratoconus Life Lessons

Originally published in NKCF Update (May 2022)

Meet Jim Herschenbach of Libertyville, IL.  Jim grew up on the northern suburbs of Chicago.  Like most young boys in the 1960s, he and his four brothers were avid football fans and played on teams starting in 5th grade.

“In our town, football was an important part of growing up.  In elementary school, I was an enthusiastic and – thankfully – relatively oversized linebacker.  I wore thick glasses and when I took them off to play or practice, I was not always sure of what I was looking at.  I remember just trying to stop anything that had a different color jersey.“Freshman year of high school, in 1972, I got my first set of soft contact lenses and everything changed.  I remember how satisfying it was to intercept a ball that I could actually track as it came toward me.

“Through college, I participated in sports, and majored in Business, graduating with an MBA.  My eyesight was far from perfect, but I got by with contact lenses.  After graduation, I moved to Boston to begin my career.  Shortly after my move, I found a new eye doctor and scheduled an annual visit.  The doctor completed the exam and then asked, ‘Do you rub your eyes?’  I had never been asked that before. After thinking about it, I told him yes.  I remember being 4 years old and rubbing my knuckles into my eyes.  It felt good and I was amazed by the colors produced in rubbing my eyes.

“So, at age 24, I heard the word ‘keratoconus’ for the first time and learned I had a progressive eye disease.  My new eye doctor described my condition and told me my eyesight could continue to deteriorate.  I was warned to stop rubbing my eyes.  In those days, the disease was one of watching and waiting.

“Forty years later, I’ve started and owned several international businesses.  I have been lucky that my vision changes have never been so severe they couldn’t be managed by a change in my contact lenses.  For the past several years, I’ve worn Boston XO RGP (rigid gas permeable) lenses.”

Jim admits that keratoconus may have demanded a few concessions over the years.

“When I visit manufacturing facilities, I am very sensitive to the dust and particles in the air and try to limit time on a factory floor.  And I find that I probably end the day a little earlier than I might if I did not have KC.  My eyes get tired after long hours of wearing contacts.  I also risk getting a headache if I do not take regular breaks.  I know I wear my contact lenses more hours than my doctor would like, but I have learned how much I can push myself before my productivity and my eye health suffers.”

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