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The Catalyst

Heart doctor’s extra effort saves patient’s eye

By Allyson Bird
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

At 97 years old, Jeff Lewis still mows his own lawn and spends his weekends cutting wood.

When he goes to see his cardiologist at MUSC, Lewis likes to tell Michael Gold, M.D., about his motorcycle.

Lewis outlived his pacemaker, and Gold installed a new one in May 2012 without any complications. But the retired steel mill worker from Conway faced a bigger problem.

Jeff Lewis, a 97-year-old retired steel mill worker from Conway, enjoys working in his yard.
Jeff Lewis, a 97-year-old retired steel mill worker from Conway, enjoys working in his yard.
Jeff Lewis, a 97-year-old retired steel mill worker from Conway, enjoys working in his yard.

He had developed basal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing form of skin cancer, in his right eye a year earlier. In the months leading up to his heart surgery, the cancer began to grow so aggressively that Lewis’ eyelid permanently closed, and the growth began to bleed.

Lewis and his wife, Frances, went to see his ophthalmologists and received upsetting news: The doctors wanted to remove the eye. “I cannot tell you how stressful that was,” she said. “If you’re 97 years old, you don’t want to hear that.”

The couple discussed prosthetics and eye patches, and they scheduled Lewis’ pacemaker surgery in the meantime. Gold visited with Frances while her husband recovered from the procedure, and she told him about the eye surgery planned for a few days later.

Gold offered to help the couple get a second opinion. Within a matter of minutes, a nurse had arranged for Lewis to see an MUSC ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist told Lewis he wanted to try radiation therapy before any surgery and referred him to Carolina Regional Cancer Center in Myrtle Beach.

Lewis’ eye opened after the first round of radiation, but doctors worried that the cancer pushing against Lewis’ optic nerve could cost him his vision as the treatment continued.

Lewis and his wife again discussed the possibilities. They made a list of priorities: First, save Lewis’ life. Second, save his eye. Then, if possible, save his vision.

After eight rounds of radiation, doctors called Lewis a miracle. He can see perfectly.

Lewis and his wife traced their success story back to the phone call from Gold.

“Here’s a heart doctor who took a look,” she said. “He took that little minute to walk back through that door, and he saved Lewis’ eye.”

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Gold said he looks forward to his annual visit from Lewis. Gold worried about how eye surgery would change Lewis’ life and wondered if it could be avoided.

“Sometimes you have to go the extra step,” Gold said. “Imagine if this is your father, grandfather or great-grandfather.

We needed to allow him to continue leading his remarkable life as a 97-year-old.”

Jeff and Frances Lewis recently donated to MUSC’s Cardiology Education Fund in Gold’s honor. He also included a note.

“You are a great heart doctor,” he wrote. “But you saved my eye!”

June 19, 2013

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