Skilled physicians restore lost vision

When faced with daunting health questions, it is the compassionate care and skilled expertise of our physicians that patients seek. Take, for example, a young woman named Tabythia, whose intraocular melanoma resulted in loss of eyesight multiple times over the course of a decade. Under the skilled care of CU faculty and physicians, Drs. Richard Davidson, Scott Oliver and Malik Kahook, Tabythia got her vision back. Her story is a testament to the life-changing work happening here at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. 

When Tabythia was born, she had a freckle in her left eye. Her mother watched it to make sure it didn’t grow, and for 13 years it didn’t. But in 2008, right after Tabythia’s 14th birthday, that freckle started to change. Tabythia’s mother, Lynn, immediately took her to see an eye doctor. At the first appointment, they knew it was a serious condition and this newly formed tumor needed to be removed. There was a constant concern that she could lose her entire eye. If it weren’t for the consultation and subsequent care from CU faculty and physicians at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, Tabythia’s story may have turned out much differently. 

Tabitha was diagnosed with intraocular melanoma and went to the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center for a second opinion. That is where she and her mother met Richard Davidson, MD. He scheduled additional tests and advised them on the best treatment plan, which involved a surgery in Philadelphia.  It was that conversation that helped comfort both Lynn and Tabythia. They knew that Dr. Davidson had their best interests at heart. 

At the time, the center did not yet have an ocular oncology program. Right after Tabythia’s surgery, the Eye Cancer Program was launched at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center, and as a result, she has been able to have the remainder of her care at CU Anschutz.

After their meeting with Dr. Davidson, Lynn and Tabythia started the long process of setting appointments in Philadelphia as well as finding accommodations for both of them. “At the time, we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on travel and hospital bills,” said Lynn. “We relied on a lot of help from people we met in Philadelphia who we now consider family.” Following the first seven-hour surgery, they had to stay for a week so Tabythia could recover. 

When they returned to Denver, Tabythia was at the Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center nearly every day for follow-up care while also traveling to Philadelphia every six months for checkups. 

Approximately seven months after the surgery, Tabythia was having trouble with the pressure in her eye and experienced severe changes in her eyesight. “One day I just woke up and couldn’t see out of my eye,” said Tabythia. “We immediately went to the hospital to get it checked out.” In that instance, Malik Kahook, MD, did an emergency surgery to restore pressure in her eye. While this procedure helped normalize Tabythia’s vision, eight years of constant monitoring was required to ensure the pressure in the eye stayed the same. 

In 2017 Tabythia again experienced severe changes with her vision. The pressure in the eye was at a critical low and surgery was needed again. “After the surgery I could see better than ever before, but four days later I woke up and my vision was gone again,” said Tabythia. Ultimately, Scott Oliver, MD, had to perform major reconstructive surgery to the wall of her eye, followed with a freezing treatment to stop the fluid from leaking. Lynn said, “Dr. Oliver told Tabythia that this was a very hard procedure and she was very brave for handling it because it had to be done right away.” Tabythia had another surgery a few months later to fix the outer layer of the eye and continues to be monitored, with another surgery possible in the future. 

She has spent the last decade worrying about her eyesight and going to appointments, but she did not let her condition interfere with her dreams. Tabythia just graduated from college with a fine arts degrees in photography. For her senior thesis, she created an exhibit with images that told the story of her own eye throughout the last 10 years. It was her way to celebrate not only the fact that Dr. Davidson recognized her eye tumor (and saved her life), that Dr. Kahook jumped in to continue her care, but also that through it all she has been able to keep her sight and use it to pursue her goal of becoming a visual artist. 

Tabythia’s mother is grateful for the subsequent care her daughter received after first meeting with Dr. Davidson. “We just can’t say enough nice things about the center,” she said. “Our story would be so much different if we hadn’t met Dr. Davidson.”