After several misdiagnoses, Sandy Blue was on the verge of losing her eyesight. But, thanks to a team of experts at Mayo Clinic and the recommendation that she try a new cancer drug, the Georgia native is seeing clearing once again.
Sandy Blue was getting ready for work one morning in 2008 when she noticed red streaks in her eyes. "I thought I was just tired," says Sandy, who was 44 at the time. But the redness worsened and she soon began experiencing sharp pain in her eyes.
Sandy visited a local eye specialist in Savannah, Georgia. Despite a myriad of drops and steroids, nothing helped as the pain and redness increased over the next six months. Ultimately, Sandy sought opinions from eight ophthalmologists, all to no avail. The sclera – or white part of her eye – was "cranberry sauce red," Sandy recalls.
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Desperate for answers, Sandy made an appointment at Mayo Clinic, two hours away in Jacksonville, Florida. Soon she learned her eye issues were a result of rheumatoid arthritis.
"We have seen patients with long-term rheumatoid arthritis eventually develop an eye problem called scleritis, or inflammation of the sclera, but it is very rare to develop the eye problems before any other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis show up," says Dr. Andy Abril, a Mayo Clinic rheumatologist. "In this case, Sandy had elevated rheumatoid arthritis markers in her blood, even though she had absolutely no joint problems. Her presentation was atypical."
After trying several medications usually prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis, Sandy’'s eyesight was not improving. Doctors needed to stop the inflammation or Sandy would go blind.
After Dr. Abril reconfirmed there was no other cause for the eye redness or pain, he recommended that Sandy try a cancer drug called rituximab. Also known as Rituxan, the drug was proving effective in treating certain cases of rheumatoid arthritis because it targets blood cells that cause the immune system to attack connective tissue in the body.
Almost immediately Sandy’s symptoms began improving. Her eyesight was restored and the damage to her sclera was reversed.
"It's been an amazing journey. I am so grateful to the team at Mayo Clinic," says Sandy, who still receives annual infusions and now works in health care as a way to give back to others. She is also active on various support groups and shares her story whenever she can.