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University student overcoming rare eye disease

From pivoting her career, to spreading awareness about her life-changing loss of sight
Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 6:42 PM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Back in 2017, Lindsey Zawacki had 20/20 vision.

She was a nursing student at Mercy College when she went on Spring break vacation with a group of friends in Florida.

While on the trip, Zawacki says she became severely sick with the flu.

“I had taken Theraflu and within hours I started to see spots. These “spots” had taken up about 80% of my vision,” explains Zawacki. “I went to the ER, received multiple tests but they could not provide an explanation as to why I couldn’t see fully.”

After arriving back home from her trip, and appointments with multiple specialists, Zawacki was diagnosed with an extremely rare disease called Acute Macular Neuroretinopathy or AMN.

According to the University of Iowa Health Care, AMN most commonly affects young to middle-aged females. There is no known cause or treatment and symptoms may not resolve.

Zawacki says there are two theories from her doctors of what happened to her eyesight. Either she was so sick her body started attacking itself and causing damage to her eyes, or that she had a bad reaction to the flu medicine.

Over time, her eyesight improved, seeing fewer and fewer black spots, but Zawacki says four years later, her vision has plateaued. With the frustrations of her eyesight and stress of working with patient medication, she eventually made the decision to discontinue nursing school.

“As of now, my vision has recovered to about a 60/40 ratio of ‘spots’ to normal vision,” adds Zawacki, who says she’s become used to her condition and the spots are less noticeable.

Zawacki has since pivoted her education and career goals to be a recreational therapist, planning to graduate from the University of Toledo in 2022.

She is now able to read from her phone while holding it close, with enlarged on-screen text, and uses magnification to read books or perform other tasks that require a closer look.

She says nothing is “blurry,” but just that anything in her field of vision is constantly covered with black and white spots.

“It’s not until it is inches away from my eyes that I can fully read a word, number, or see the object fully. Every time I blink the spots move around to a different area. Which makes reading numbers and words very difficult. It can’t be corrected with glasses because things are not blurry, they are gone. Around the areas where I don’t see spots, I still have clear vision. This is mainly the only reason I am still able to see and perform daily functions like driving, reading, work, and other tasks.”

Over the past 4 years, Zawacki says she’s learned and adapted to how life with the spots in her vision, but wanted to share her story to spread awareness, and through research, found others who were also diagnosed after taking flu medications.

“In my opinion, there is no reason to dwell on a situation that you cannot change,” explains Zawacki. “Despite the odds, I can do all the things I thought I was never going to be able to do again. I am beyond grateful for the amount of vision I have recovered. I could never say thank you enough to all of my friends, family, and retina specialists. They helped me through one of the most challenging and depressing times of my life. I wouldn’t be here today without them.”

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