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Kirby Puckett: Eye Problem Forecast Tragedy

eye exam
By Bill Lloyd, MDMarch 07, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Baseball fans are still reeling from the sudden death of Hall of Fame Minnesota Twins’ legend Kirby Puckett. Puckett’s playing career ended prematurely after he developed a blinding eye condition caused by occlusion of a retinal blood vessel. The eye condition occurred in 1996 and wiped out the vision in his right eye. This was a circulatory disorder that was present throughout his entire body – not just the eye. It was an ‘eye problem’ because of the vision loss and because his eye doctors could see the problem.

That is how it often is. An eye problem is representative of a much larger condition affecting the entire body, a systemic condition. In this situation high blood pressure is usually discovered. Eye doctors know about this dangerous combination and refer the patient to an internist for further evaluation. Retinal vascular occlusions have a disastrous reputation. Eye doctors know that the long-term overall prognosis is grim unless affected individuals act quickly to regain their good health: stop smoking, lose weight, control their blood pressure and lower their cholesterol.

Poor bloodflow in Puckett’s right eye led to a special kind of glaucoma. Game over. No more playing baseball. Batters need crisp vision in both eyes to consistently gauge the path of a 95mph baseball thrown at them.

Celebrity deaths often alert the public to preventable health tragedies. Kirby Puckett’s situation is no different. If your eye doctor finds hemorrhages in your eye and warns you about blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol it may be the only advance warning you get to protect yourself from permanent disability or death.

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