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Carolyn Gross, an optician at Black Mountain Family EyeCare, credits the owner of the business, Dr. Cory Partlow, with saving her life in January. She was in the high risk category of having a stroke from an ocular occlusion in her right eye.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 130,000 people in the U.S. died from strokes in 2015. An American dies of a stroke every four minutes, the CDC reports.

“I had an eyelash in my right eye migrating all over the eye and I couldn’t get it out for two days,” Gross said. “Finally I asked Dr. Partlow if he could take a look at my eye. While he was examining my eye and removing the eyelash, I told him that there was something else I needed to tell him about my vision.”

A week prior to the eyelash incident, Gross had noticed her vision wasn’t as good as usual. It wasn’t a big difference, but there was a definite change. Partlow dilated Gross’ right eye for a closer look. What he saw was a gray area in the center of the eye with ragged edges. It was a retinal vascular occlusion. Translated into layman’s terms, that’s a large blockage.

“It was plaque from one of the arteries in the retina,” Partlow said. “It happens quickly, and usually the patient doesn’t know it. Carolyn had her yearly eye exam about six weeks prior, and everything was OK. We contacted her primary care physician with whom she has a good relationship, and I knew she was in good hands. She was the second patient in the same day that suffered similar conditions.”

Gross said she wasn’t worried about the problem, but did not delay in calling her physician.

“I called my primary physician in Asheville on Thursday, and he saw me the next day,” Gross said. “Tests showed that I had at least a 90 percent blockage. He referred me to a vascular surgeon to confirm his findings, and tests confirmed that I had over 90 percent blockage in the right artery. If the blockage had been located above the mandible (jawbone), it would have been inoperable. Mine was at the mandible but not above. I had surgery and the blockage was removed.”

Partlow said the blockage put Carolyn in a precarious situation of being a high risk for a stroke.

Gross returned to work at Black Mountain Family EyeCare three weeks ago. She said she feels 100 percent back to normal.

“I think working in the eye care field has made me more aware of my eyes and how important regular checkups are,” she said. “It is also a lot less expensive to catch something in the early stages or to prevent it from happening than to treat it.”

An annual eye examination is important for all ages, but for aging eyes it is especially significant. The routine eye exam is not covered by Medicare for senior citizens, but specialized treatment like surgery is covered.

“Sometimes during the routine annual eye exam other health problems show up that the person wasn’t aware they had,” Partlow said. “It isn’t uncommon to detect diabetes, thyroid problems, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, neurological conditions and other physical problems. It is better to be proactive in discovering conditions, rather than wait until symptoms start showing up.”

Gross recovered from a potentially fatal medical situation for a special purpose, she said. Maybe it was to tell her story so someone else would be motivated to have an eye examination, she said.

“I am a five-year cancer survivor, and now I’ve survived a potential stroke,” she said. “There is definitely a special reason for me being left here.”

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