World Games Updates
Chih Hua Liu, a figure skater from Taiwan, receives a vision screening from Dr. Jack Zarybnisky at the Opening Eyes venue. The screening revealed a condition that could have caused blindness if untreated.
Eye Screening Averts Blindness for Taiwanese Athlete
Chih Hua Liu, a figure skater from Taiwan, developed pain in his left eye and nausea as he prepared to compete in Boise, Idaho at the 2009 World Winter Games. Fortunately, the Healthy Athletes program was offering free screenings in its Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes venue. The results of Hua Liu’s screening, however, surprised even the veteran volunteer doctors working the event who immediately called for an ambulance to take Liu to the emergency room.
Liu had extremely high intraocular pressure, a condition called “Closed-angle Glaucoma.” Normally, the pressure in a person’s eye ranges between mid-teens to low 20s; the pressure in Liu’s left eye was 68.
“This was an acute medical emergency, one that could have resulted in permanent blindness if untreated,” said Dr. Matt Holder, a medical advisor for Healthy Athletes.
Dr. Jack Zarybnisky, the volunteer doctor who performed the screening and discovered the condition, was able to call in a prescription for Liu, medicated eye drops that need to be administered four times daily.
“That's why we are here – to help athletes like that,” Zarybnisky said. While Liu’s is an extreme case, many Special Olympics athletes have vision or other health issues. More than 900 athletes received eye exams like those administered to Liu throughout the week. Nearly 5000 screenings were given to athletes free of charge in six different health areas.
Shy and soft-spoken, Liu looked down when asked about his experience, but said he was very happy that the doctors could help him with his vision. “I couldn’t really see much out of one eye,” he said, and the problem was affecting his skating.
With medication, though, Liu was able to continue skating throughout the week, and a follow-up visit to Healthy Athletes showed that the pressure had been lowered.
Liu’s story is even more poignant considering that he almost didn’t have the opportunity to participate in Boise. Raised in an orphanage in his earlier years, Liu was reunited with his father about five years ago and started rollerblading and competing. His father was initially skeptical of the long trip to the United States, but changed his mind after Liu’s coaches spoke to him. That decision saved Liu’s eyesight and had other positive effects as well.
Kate Zhang, a student at American University in Washington DC and volunteer translator for Liu and other members of his team, said the experience of competing at Special Olympics was helping Liu become more outgoing. “Apparently, he didn’t talk to people before, but now he spends time with his teammates, and he talks to me, tells me how he is feeling and how happy he is to be here,” she said.