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Laura Shares Keratoconus Struggles, Career and Insurance

The following story is shared by Laura Nickerson:

Hello, my name is Laura, I am 33 years old living with Keratoconus since I was 15. I was in for a routine eye exam when I was 15 & was fitted for glasses, also being offered gas permeable lenses. I had no clue what permeable lenses were, there was no explanation from the optometrist as to why I would even need the lenses. I was never officially diagnosed until I was 24 years old. I went from Dr. to Dr. trying to figure out what was wrong with my sight, no one had an answer for me. I became an EMT at 23, but got a job as one at 24 when my license expired. Of course I failed the vision test at the DMV, I was so scared because I had just gotten my EMT job a couple of weeks prior.

I cried fearing that my life was over as I knew it, I called my grandma & she told me to go to her eye Dr. I paid Dr. Lee a visit, that is when someone finally gave me a proper diagnoses for my vision problems. Back then eye glasses got me by for day to day functions (barely). The summer days were the worst, the haze from the heat made it impossible to see. Someone could be standing directly in front of me & I could not make their faces out. Don't worry, I never drove the ambulance on the bad vision days. My job was aware of my disease & I let all of my work partners know in case I had to do patient care all day.

As the years went by, the glasses that I maintained with no longer did the job. I visited the eye Dr. again, she told me that a cornea transplant needed to be performed. Since I have never had surgery, or been hospitalized, I was terrified! I purchased AFLAC through my job to prepare myself financially for what was to come with me being out for surgery. I went and got other opinions from different opthamologists, only to be more confused about what to do. One Dr. said you need a cornea transplant, Second declared me legally blind, offering to fit me for hard contacts, (rudest Dr. ever), Third Dr. said, I didn't need surgery, maybe just a heat treatment.

A few months later I could no longer see myself in the mirror, or to drive myself to work. I was devastated & scared, I had to put myself on medical leave lasting 5 months. The plan was to be out no longer than 3 months, because that is all AFLAC was giving me. Little did I know, no insurance company covers Keratoconus exams or the lenses! Not only did I have to pay my regular bills with my AFLAC checks, I also had to pay my insurance for work every two weeks, and pay for eye exams and fitting fees, and contacts.

My contacts plus fitting fee was $650 upfront, no payment plans, no nothing. I had exhausted all of my funds by the 5th month of being on leave, only being paid for 3 & was evicted from my apartment. I found the services of the blind, they paid for my contacts. I am so blessed to have found them, they were the only organization to try and help me. I felt helpless and hopeless, wanting everyday that I was on medical leave, to end my life. 

After going through all of this chaos while on leave, I let my job know that my contacts were on the way, and that I was ready to return to duty. My job told me that I had to reapply, take another drug test, wait for my criminal background to be redone, get vaccinated, and go back through orientation an hour away at the corporate office. 

My contacts finally arrived, I could see, and it was bittersweet! I went back to work, I had to call out a few times in the beginning, due to my contacts clouding. I have also broken one, dropped one and never found it, and a few have slipped down the drain.

No one understands the struggles that we go through everyday living with this disease, they think it is funny, or that we are faking. I would give anything to see without these hard contact in, never take the small things for granted!

Laura Nickerson

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