Man regains sight after fall damages optic nerve

A successful boat broker lost his sight after a ten foot fall severed his optic nerve. Against all odds and with the help of an eye specialist, he now has regained his sight.

It can start with a fall off a bike, a car accident or even an explosion. As many as 1 million Americans have had their lives disrupted as a result of vision problems due to a head injury.

The optic nerve serves as the essentially the video cable that connects the eyes to the human brain. If injured, vision loss is usually the result.

Ken Denison sells boats, sometimes $100 million boats. Even on large, opulent boats, having an eye for the littlest details can make or break a sale.

However, one rainy summer morning, a wrong step and a ten foot fall to the ground suddenly turned the lights out on Denison.

"Immediately the vision went out of this eye," said Denison. "It went black."

Optic nerve injuries are the focus of doctor David Tse's research at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami. Tse said a forceful blow to the head can in fact, can cause severe eye damage if the optic nerve is injured.

However there was something very unusual with Denison's case.

Three months after his accident, Tse employed the use of advanced imaging techniques and found something that all his doctors had missed –13 pieces of wood chips. Those chips, each an inch long or more, were embedded in Denison's eye socket and pressed on his optic nerve.

"You just wonder how you could've lived with that much stuff in the back of an orbit of an eye and not know something about it," said Denison.

Tse believes Denison's one of his luckiest patients and with 20-40 vision, Denison said the improvement is almost unbelievable.

"The week after that fall, I thought I'd never be where I am today," said Denison. (:03)

Although traumatic optic nerve injury is often irreversible, the sooner a patient is treated, the better the chance of restoring vision.

Tse is now working with a grant from the Department of Defense to explore a variety of possible treatments for optic nerve injury.

Research Summary:
Optic Nerve Injuries: Saving Ken's Sight

Background: The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain. It carries the impulses formed by the retina, which is the nerve layer that lines the back of the eye and senses light and creates impulses. These impulses are dispatched through the optic nerve to the brain, which interprets them as images. Using an ophthalmoscope, the head of the optic nerve can be easily seen. It can be viewed as the only visible part of the brain. The optic nerve is the second cranial nerve. The cranial nerve emerges from or enters the skull, as opposed to the spinal nerves, which emerge from the vertebral column. There are 12 cranial nerves. The word "optic" comes from the Greek "optikos," pertaining to sight. (SOURCE:

Injuries To Optic Nerve: Injuries to the optic nerve can result from a number of factors. These injuries can be caused by direct or indirect contact to the optic nerve. In all cases, treatment is essential because permanent vision loss can occur. When injuries occur, many complications with vision often result, including blurred vision, visual field defects, and difficulty seeing colors. When an injury occurs anywhere on the optic nerve, the transmission from the eye to the brain becomes interrupted. In some cases, damage to the optic nerve fibers can be permanent, which can result in permanent vision loss and blindness.

Causes: Any injury that occurs to the eye socket or head can lead to an injury of the optic nerve. Common causes of these injuries are motor vehicle accidents, falls and sports collisions. Assault can cause this type of injury as well. In some cases, the injury can result from a surgical complication, which can involve the brain, sinuses or eye socket. The optic nerve may be damaged as a result of a direct injury to the nerve, such as with a stab or bullet wound, or an indirect injury when an object hits the head and causes the nerve to swell and lose blood flow, such as a fall or punch.

Treatment: The treatment of traumatic optic nerve injury depends on the type of injury. If there is pressure on the nerve in the eye socket from blood or air, it may be necessary to have an emergency procedure called a lateral canthotomy to relieve the pressure. In this procedure, a small cut is made between the eyelids at the corner of the eye. The patient may also need eye drops to lower the eye pressure. If the bone is pressing on the nerve, the patient may need surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve. This is called optic nerve decompression surgery. If there is bleeding around the nerve, the patient may also need surgery to try to relieve the pressure on the nerve from the blood. (SOURCE:

For more information, please contact:
*Omar Montejo, Media Relations
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Miami, FL
(305) 243-5654

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