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Tim Clark, 55, Spontaneous Tear Of The Retina

Social media handles:

Instagram = @thehalfblindpotter

Where are you from?

Born and raised in California’s Central Valley

Where do you live now?

Visalia, CA

Tell us a little about yourself:

Growing up I was that introverted kid sitting in the back of the classroom biding his time waiting for the recess bell to ring by doodling in the margins of textbooks. I was never very engaged in school growing up and always kind of felt like I was locked up watching the world pass by outside the window.

Tim and his wife out hiking
Tim and his wife

I have always loved being outside and exploring. In high school, I did just enough schoolwork to stay eligible for sports. Running cross country/track provided me with a sense of freedom that I had never felt before.

As well as being that shy quiet kid I was also that late bloomer kid who grew 6 inches between his Jr and Sr years of high school. With that growth spurt came all the usual aches and pains of growing.

When you combine that with the pounding that comes from being a long-distance runner I spent more time watching teammates compete than racing myself during my senior year.

I was fast enough that I planned to walk onto the local junior college cross-country team and try to earn a spot. In order to keep my cardio fitness while trying to rehab my legs I took up cycling.

As my “rehab” stint progressed I dabbled a little bit in racing triathlons but to be honest it never really took because I hated training for the swim portion. I was totally hooked on racing bicycles though and ended up racing bicycles in college for Fresno State.

I raced for another 7 years after graduation all over California as well as a little bit in Nevada, Oregon, and Arizona. As my racing career began to slow a bit I was introduced to the sport of rock climbing and soon I left racing to pursue this new athletic passion.

I spent the next 10 years climbing all over California. You can only play the climbing bum role for so long before you need to grow up and get a “real” job. So I decided to follow a childhood dream and I went through a 20-week basic fire academy at a local junior college.

Within a year after graduation, I landed a full-time job as a firefighter. I worked for 10 years as a firefighter before leaving the fire service and eventually landing the role I now fill as the manager of a 6000’ sqft employee fitness center owned by a local health care/hospital network.

Tim after his spontaneous tear of the retina - his eye is very swollen and red
Tim after his spontaneous tear of the retina

What’s your eye story?

Being that December 15th is my birthday you would expect it to be a joyous day and for 52 years it was. On December 15, 2020, I experienced a spontaneous tear of the retina in my left eye.

My birthday is now forever tied to the day I lost the vision in my left eye. I was at work on a computer when it happened. At one point I leaned back in my chair to stretch. As I did my gaze lifted from the computer screen to out the window. At that time, I noticed the floaties you see in your field of vision were darker and thicker than usual.

I didn’t think much of it at the time and went back to work. About 30 minutes later I looked up again and noticed that not only were the thick, dark floaties still there but now I was also seeing what looked like black grains of sand floating in my field of vision.

I thought it was weird at the time but it was a windy day that day and I shrugged it off as dust or something that had gotten in my eye. After another 45 minutes or so had passed I looked out the window a third time.

This time when I closed my right eye the vision in my left eye looked like I was trying to look through a fogged-over window or mirror. This is when the alarm bells in my head went off.

I called and managed to get an emergency appointment the following morning with my regular eye doctor. When I woke up the next morning the field of vision in my left eye was pitch black. Now I was really afraid.

I was told by my eye doctor that the retina was torn and the reason everything was pitch black in that eye was that it had hemorrhaged as it tore and the inside of the eyeball had filled with blood.

Due to this incident occurring during the height of COVID and all of the logistic issues that came with society being deep in the throes of COVID, it took 12 days to get my retina reattachment surgery scheduled.

I have no idea if the 12-day delay in what is usually an emergency surgery is the reason why my first surgery failed or not but the following two surgeries also failed. My fourth and last surgery took place at Stanford University’s Eye Institute and was performed in an effort to keep the eye itself.

What has been the most challenging mentally?

Like a large number of first responders, I have struggled occasionally with the mental issues that come with the territory. As you can guess becoming half blind doesn’t have a positive impact on a preexisting on-and-off battle with depression.

In addition, due to the fact that they do not know what caused my retinal detachment, I sometimes deal with anxiety as well. Who is to say that the retina in my good eye won’t detach tomorrow? Sometimes it feels like I am living with a potential time bomb in my head that could leave me totally blind.

What has been the most challenging physically?

Depth perception for sure. Sometimes the little things can be the most frustrating. When I was a firefighter I had the ability to parallel park a fire engine. Now I struggle to park a compact car! Occupational therapy has helped. It was a serious struggle to find an OT that specialized in vision issues in my area but it was worth the effort to find one.

Where are you now in your recovery?

Currently, I have a small triangular field of vision that is 20/2500. During my last annual eye exam, an abnormally high intraocular pressure was detected in my blind eye so I have been prescribed eye drops I take twice a day to lower the pressure.

Tim at his first cross-country mountain bike race - Outside on his bike waring a helmet, and race number
Tim at his first cross-country mountain bike race

Last winter I “graduated” from OT and in February I competed in my first cross-country mountain bike race since becoming half-blind.

Sorry, there was no “Hollywood” ending. Due to depth perception challenges I have an issue with misjudging how fast I enter into turns. I ended up on the ground three times due to “overcooking” a few turns.

I didn’t finish last but I wasn’t anywhere near the podium either. Just racing again and beating some guys with normal vision felt like I had taken part of my life back. That was a huge victory for me! It won’t be my last race either!

What advice would you give to someone going through their eye impairment journey?

I can’t state strongly enough what a good support network of people around me has meant during this journey. My wife specifically has been incredibly supportive in more ways than I can count! The encouragement from friends and family is invaluable! They are a HUGE blessing in my life.

This goes beyond my circle of friends and family. As wonderful a support network as they are none of them have personally experienced what it is like to go through life with monocular vision. Discovering EYEHESIVE and the “One-Eyed Gang” has been a huge help.

I don’t think I can put into words the mental shift that has occurred from knowing I am not the only one. The support, inspiration, and knowledge of how to live with / cope with monocular vision drawn from that collection of folks help give me encouragement and a reminder that things are going to be OK.

I hope and pray that my story can help and inspire at least one person out there dealing with monocular vision.

Who is your eye surgeon and ocularist?

Dr. Natalia Fijalkowski-Callaway from Stanford University Eye Institute

Tim throwing clay - making a mug
Tim the half-blind potter

How did you find EYEHESIVE?

I was totally frustrated searching for information regarding support and services for monocular vision when I stumbled onto EYEHESIVE during one of my many online searches.

My frustration was that I was finding all kinds of stuff for folks that were completely blind but I just wasn’t seeing much out there for folks with monocular vision. I am so thankful that EYEHESIVE stands in that gap!

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