Pamela Young: Eye visit saves her life

October 6, 2021
When Pamela Young experienced a blur in her vision, she was unaware that her appointment with her doctor of optometry would be one of the most important appointments that she would have in her lifetime. Young gives that appointment and her doctor, Andrea Thau, O.D., the credit for being alive to tell the story today.
Pamela Young

“Thanks to Dr. Thau, I’m here giving this interview today, because when my loved ones were in the waiting room, they were with the other families who had people in for surgery and there were very few success stories.” -Pamela Young

It was a Sunday in early August 2002. Pamela Young was relaxing at her home in New York City with a friend, watching TV. She noticed a slight blurriness in her left eye, describing it as if someone had wiped Vaseline across her glasses.

The next morning, Young called her doctor of optometry, Andrea Thau, O.D., who told her to come in right away. Dr. Thau performed a comprehensive eye exam that included a visual field test to map out her peripheral vision. Dr. Thau administered the test because she suspected something was affecting the pathway from the eye to the back of the brain.

The visual field test showed “a subtle defect in that eye. It wasn’t an enormous defect,” Dr. Thau explained. Other than a slight reduction in her acuity (clarity of sight), everything else in the examination was normal, which is unusual for a neurological issue.

Young was a fairly new patient of Dr. Thau’s, coming in only one prior time for a comprehensive eye exam. But that initial visit allowed Dr. Thau to learn what was normal for Young’s vision. So, when her patient said something had changed, she believed her.

“I took that very seriously,” Dr. Thau says. Her late father, Edwin C. Thau, O.D., often told her, “Always listen to the patient. If you listen carefully, they’ll tell you what’s wrong.”

Dr. Thau recommended Young see a neuro-ophthalmologist right away and got her an appointment with a top doctor in the city. However, after he examined Young, he called Dr. Thau and said he didn’t suspect a neurological problem because the tests he performed were within the normal range.

“I told him; you’ve got to trust me on this one. You need to image her; I know her, and this is different. This is not normal for her,” Dr. Thau remembers.

After that conversation, he immediately referred Young for an MRI, which was delayed for five weeks because of an insurance holdup. She finally had an MRI on a Saturday. She remembers having the exam, then going to a live performance of the musical “Hairspray.”

The next day, Young received a call with the MRI results showing she had a “ballooning artery” in her brain, known as an aneurysm. Aneurysms can burst open at any time, causing massive bleeding that can lead to stroke and even death. Young was told to return to the doctor’s office on Monday.

“I didn’t understand the severity of it,” Young says, so she stopped by her workplace Monday morning to let them know she had to go to the hospital and might be out a few days. “I probably was in denial.”

People with aneurysms often have no symptoms, but Young’s was bumping up against the optic nerve of her eye, causing the blurriness. Her aneurysm required surgery so it could be clamped off to prevent blood from entering the artery and causing it to burst.

“Thanks to Dr. Thau, I’m here giving this interview today, because when my loved ones were in the waiting room, they were with the other families who had people in for surgery and there were very few success stories,” Young says.

“Dr. Thau literally saved my life. So many people dismiss things sometimes if you don’t have those stereotypical symptoms, and she was relentless,” Young says. “I will forever be grateful and thankful.” -Pamela Young

Young’s surgery was 100% successful. When she woke up in the recovery area, Dr. Thau was one of her first visitors.

Young says, “It was one of those experiences where I think I should have been scared out of my mind, and I just never let myself go there because I was surrounded by such positivity, with Dr. Thau, other doctors and all my loved ones.”

Young’s optic nerve regained full function over the next few weeks and she had no permanent damage to her eyesight. Young later moved to California and is now retired.

Dr. Thau replies, “The truth is she saved her own life, too. She recognized the new symptom; she did not ignore her own body. She knew who she could go to and trust because of the relationship she had built based on ongoing comprehensive eye care with a doctor of optometry.”

Andrea P. Thau, O.D.

Andrea P. Thau, O.D.

Practicing at Dr. Thau and Associates on Park Avenue in New York City, Dr. Thau is a champion of children's vision, who has been called upon to advocate on their behalf at the state and national level. A nationally recognized lecturer in the area of infants' and children's vision, she is a founding member of the AOA's InfantSEE® committee as well as a founding member and former vice president of the New York Children's Vision Coalition. Dr. Thau is a past president of the American Optometric Association and currently serves as the founding chair of the AOA’s Leadership Development Committee, in addition to being a member of the AOA’s Political Action Committee and acting as Policy Chair and Councilor of the Vision Care Section of the American Public Health Association.  Find an AOA doctor of optometry near you.

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