Graves Disease
Do You Believe in Second Chances?

When I was diagnosed with Grave's Disease in 2003, I had no idea what the disease was, nor was I prepared for the trauma and hardships that I would face. Some of the advice I received led me to make the wrong decisions which exacerbated my condition. After radioactive iodine (RAI), I had conflicting thoughts and ideas about how to combat this illness and I had serious misgivings about the doctors who were treating me. Those doctors told me it would get worse before it got better. I had no idea how prophetic those words were. It's amazing how a little gland like the thyroid can trigger a tremendous number of symptoms and problems when it goes awry. It’s a cruel disease.

“If you get any symptoms of Grave's Ophthalmopathy, (Thyroid Eye Disease,) you have more than an 80% chance of it worsening due to RAI.” In my case, I was rushed into RAI without being informed of any other treatment available. This was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I was robbed of making a choice because I was never given any options. I endured all the ill effects: swelling, broken blood vessels, redness, dry eyes, and tearing. Most worrisome, my eyes began to protrude to the point that my eyelids would not close. Radiation therapy was prescribed in 12 painstaking sessions but this only compounded the problem, and my eyes protruded more than before treatment. I was prescribed steroids in the hopes that it would remedy the problem in time, but it didn't.

As months passed, my once beautiful face and striking brown eyes were unrecognizable. I tried eye exercises, icing my eyes, using eye drops and ointments, taking flaxseed oil and vitamin B, and monitoring my diet in the hopes of improving my condition. Comments like “What’s wrong with your eyes?” “What happened to your face?” “You used to be so beautiful,” and looks of pity and non-recognition steadily deteriorated my confidence and self-esteem. Now, with a hypothyroid condition, I felt fat and ugly. When I told my endocrinologist, all he could say was that I had to accept that I was getting older. He failed to understand it wasn’t a matter of getting older, but that Grave's Disease had impacted my appearance and disfigured my face so that I could not see any resemblance to the person I was. I shunned posing for photographs, withdrew from family and friends, and became a recluse as I suffered in silence. For two years, I depended on my partner and son to drive me to work and appointments. I memorized my route to and from home those few times that I could drive with one eye cupped, and I put my life and those of others at risk. My single vision was replaced with diplopia (double vision), and I lost my depth perception, peripheral vision, and night vision. I could not see bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway (while being driven around), and I could not see cars driving toward me when I walked down streets. I had to turn sideways to see one image out of one eye. I lost nearly all visual acuity and color sensation, and I was sensitive to bright lights and sunlight. I could not pick people out of a crowd, I could not catch a ball, I easily became dizzy and nauseous, and I was always fearful.

On the recommendation of my doctors at Kaiser I waited three years for my eye disease to plateau. They squelched any hope of orbital decompression surgery because there were others on the waiting list with more severe conditions than mine. The following year, I signed with a new carrier. I researched the web until I found Dr. Cockerham’s website. I delved into her background and education, read all the patient testimonials, and studied all the “before and after” pictures. Now it was time to meet her in person. I was nervous and unsure of what to expect, and brought my photos and medical records with me. On my initial consultation, I found the office and staff inviting and friendly. I met with Dr. Chan, the practice's optometrist, who gave me my first thorough and complete consultation and examination. I noticed framed awards, certifications, and photos in every room, along with accolades and patient testimonials.

I found Dr. Cockerham to be personable, friendly, compassionate, and sympathetic---the complete opposite of the doctors I had experienced before. She quickly disarmed me, listened to me, and let me cry. She studied my photos, went over all the data and analysis, and reassured me that I wasn’t losing my mind. By the end of our visit, she had charted a course of action. My first surgery for an orbital decompression was scheduled for February 2009, strabismus (Double Vision) surgery was scheduled for August 2009, and eyelid retraction repair was scheduled for February 2010.

This process has been a journey that has taken seven years of my life and nearly cost my life. I suffered a multitude of physical problems and psychological stress as a result of bad advice. However, all that changed when I met Dr. Cockerham. She is the most amazing woman and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for saving my life and giving me a second chance. I am finally able to look at myself in the mirror. I am the person—the face---I used to be before Grave's Disease, and more importantly, she has given me the gift of my eyesight. God has performed miracles through her ability to restore my vision. Every surgery she has recommended has been the right surgery for me, and I have not been disappointed at any of the outcomes. I have a full life again, my face and eyes are as beautiful as before, if not more, and I have regained my confidence.

Dr. Cockerham is nothing less than a miracle, a godsend, and the most caring, sympathetic, attentive, understanding, and passionate physician who is a consummate professional and perfectionist. I am a living testament to her ability and expertise in the field of medicine, and I thank God for her every day!

My thanks to Dr. Kimberley Cockerham, Dr. Stephanie S. Chan, and the entire office staff, as well as my anesthesiologist, Dr. Lee, and the El Camino Surgical Center.

2003 (before GD)

Age 43
130 lbs. – sz. 2

2004 – Pre RAI

119-120 lbs. – sz 1/3
Eyes begin swelling, suffering from dry eyes and broken blood vessels.

2005 – Post RAI

Painful, can’t close eyes to sleep, eyes starting to protrude badly and suffering from double vision, and vision irregularities.

2006 – Post Chemo Radiation treatments

Peripheral, depth, single, and night vision gone, losing control of eye movement. Hair falling out, facial burns surfacing, teeth moving.

2007

Weight out of control, lethargic, adjusting meds to find right T-levels. Will it ever end?

2008

Orbital Decompression research starts
179 lbs. – sz. 12

2009 – Post Orbital Decompression

Started steroids and prisms for vision to n/a

2010 - Present day

131 lbs. – sz. 2
3 surgeries later -
Success fully vision restored!

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