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Illness caught just in time

Fort Simpson woman coping with rare syndrome

Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 31/01) - Gloria Kotchea knew something was wrong when she began experiencing blurry vision last month.

Then everything she saw looked green, and she felt light-headed.

After seeing a doctor in Fort Simpson, she was sent to Yellowknife where she was examined by two more doctors. They had her flown to Edmonton where specialists diagnosed her with Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome, a very rare and potentially fatal disease that originates in the eye.

"The doctors were really stunned about it," she said.

It took a series of tests, a painful lumbar puncture (spinal tap) and numerous eye drops to determine the root of the problem. After the diagnosis, Kotchea was placed on intravenous for a week. She described the ordeal as "pretty scary" and said the battery of tests completely drained her body of energy.

Fortunately, the specialists informed her that the syndrome was caught in time to prevent it from advancing to the brain. Doctors couldn't stop the disease from spreading from her left eye into her right eye, however. Her prescription for eye drops and oral steroids had to be extended because of it.

"It makes me swell up lots," she noted. "And there's lot of side effects from the steroids."

She said there's a chance the disease will return in the future, but no long-term complications are expected. The disease is not considered hereditary, so her three children should be safe.

Kotchea was only the third person diagnosed with Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome in Canada, she said. The disease is found primarily in Orientals, Hispanics, Indians and Native Americans, but the cause is still unknown.

For more information on the disease, visit the following Web site: www.iritis.com/vkh.htm.