Vitrectomy Surgery: Jim's Story
- Jim Ozminski was referred to the Wilmer Eye Institute after an unsuccessful cataract surgery.
- Sharon Solomon, M.D., and other Wilmer physicians treated Ozminski’s eyes, helping preserve 20/40 vision in his seeing (left) eye.
- The restored condition of his sight has enabled him to continue building a community holiday tree display each year.
For 17 years, the 63-year-old has been setting up a special walk-through display for the Littlestown children’s holiday party. Ozminski decorates and lights a path of trees that range from 6 inches to 10 feet tall. The setup requires hundreds of hours. Originally, only one tree was decorated, then three or four the following year. Now, there are 72 uniquely decorated trees with over 100,000 lights.
Around the time the displays became established as a town tradition, Ozminski’s bout with cataracts became too much of a challenge, and vision in both eyes was deteriorating. “It was like everything was hazy, like looking through four or five pieces of plastic wrap,” he says.
Ozminski underwent a complicated cataract surgery near his home, but his condition did not improve. Soon after, his right eye worsened due to a macular scar.
Surgery on Both Eyes
Ozminski’s doctor suggested he go to the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute to receive more treatment. Although Ozminski’s right eye was treated first, his left eye began deteriorating as well. After corneal transplant surgery on his right eye, it was determined that more surgery would be needed to strengthen it. That surgery is pending.
While his right eye was undergoing treatment, an unrelated epiretinal membrane, which forms on the surface of the retina without a known cause, had progressed in his left eye. An epiretinal membrane is a common condition, and vision is compromised from its progression in only a small subset of patients. But Ozminski’s condition resulted in decreased vision in what had become his only seeing eye. Ozminski was referred to Sharon Solomon, M.D., for vitrectomy surgery, which involves making small incisions in the eye to remove the membrane from the delicate surface of the retina.
After vitrectomy surgery, the retina heals over weeks or months, and vision tends to improve as the retina swelling from the membrane subsides. In Ozminski’s case, not all retina swelling subsided, so his vision was still somewhat compromised. This swelling can blur the vision and cause straight lines to be distorted into curves. To resolve this, intravitreal steroids were administered during postoperation visits with Solomon.
The steroids were successful in resolving the residual swelling. Vision in Ozminski’s left eye has improved and been maintained at 20/40 since his last treatment.
“Dr. Solomon was very kind and very concerned with trying to correct what was wrong,” Ozminski says. “I’m very, very happy with her.”
The fact that someone who is visually impaired would dedicate himself to creating such a visually stimulating centerpiece for the community was awe-inspiring.Sharon Solomon, M.D., Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute
A Special Invite
It was during one of the treatment visits that Solomon learned of the holiday tree decorating endeavors. Ozminski’s sister-in-law, Jill Ozminski, who accompanies him to the appointments, described the magnitude of the displays to Solomon.
“I said to Dr. Solomon, you should see this just because of the challenges Jim has with his eyes,” recalls Jill Ozminski. “I think you would be absolutely amazed.”
When Solomon arrived, she was blown away.
“The fact that someone who is visually impaired would dedicate himself to creating such a visually stimulating centerpiece for the community was awe-inspiring,” Solomon says.
Each tree in the display, made of mostly donated trees, lights and decorations, is different. Jim Ozminski’s inspirations come unexpectedly through molding the resources available with what crosses his mind. There’s a tree with a New Year’s Eve theme, and a “salute to veterans” tree.
“He’s very creative. Sometimes people give him trees that don’t have all the parts with them and he’ll take it,” Jill Ozminski says. “He took one and turned it upside down and made it into almost a palm tree, and he has monkeys hanging from that one.”
“They're totally amazed,” Jim Ozminski says of the reactions from the community. “The parents are more amazed than the children are.”
Reflecting on his vision journey brings Jim Ozminski to chuckle with slight relief before considering what his condition would be like had he not been referred to Wilmer. “Oh my. … It probably would not be good.”
Solomon explains that his vision would have slowly worsened over the months to years without the surgical procedure.
Over the years, Jill Ozminski has witnessed firsthand the staff’s genuine approach during their visits. “(Wilmer doctors) have taken their time to explain things in easy to understand terms, and always told Jim and whoever is with him at the appointment what they could do or could not do,” she says. “They have Jim’s best interests at heart.”
Jim Ozminski continues to see Solomon and the Wilmer team for checkups to maintain his condition. With his vision manageable this holiday season, he was able to put close to 400 hours into the display, which was seen by over 700 visitors. What started as a gesture to the local children has become a spectacle anticipated and enjoyed by all ages — a sight to behold.