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YES Campaign

Heart doctor's extra effort saves patient's eye

By Allyson Bird
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

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

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, Jeff likes to tell Dr. Michael Gold about his motorcycle.

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

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 Jeff’s eyelid permanently closed, and the growth began to bleed.

Jeff 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,” Frances said. “If you’re 97 years old, you don’t want to hear that.”

The couple discussed prosthetics and eye patches, and they scheduled Jeff’s pacemaker surgery in the meantime. Dr. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sometimes you have to go the extra step,” Dr. 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 Dr. Gold’s honor. Jeff also included a note.

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