The Astorino Eye Care team felt both honored and proud to watch their patient Bianca Beach perform Tunnel Vision, a one act play, at Chapman University. The play, which she wrote herself, is “an exploration of what we 'see' through life; the light, the dark, and the shadows in between."
In the play, Bianca navigates themes of trauma, her coming of age, perseverance, and the fight against time with her degenerative condition, Glaucoma. She states that the goal was to educate and move her audience into action for further research and towards finding a cure. In particular she highlights The Glaucoma Research Foundation (Glaucoma.org), who are “exploring many promising avenues, from optic nerve regeneration to transplantation to gene manipulation, toward the goal of restoring useful sight to patients who have lost vision to glaucoma.”
Dr. Astorino, Dr. Cahoon, and David Greening (optician) attended the 7pm showing of the play, and were especially excited with this being such a unique opportunity. Between them, Dr. Astorino and Dr. Cahoon have performed thousands of operations, but this is the first instance where a patient allowed them the chance to see the other side of the journey. For that we are especially grateful.
When we arrived, the stage was lit with a beautiful blue-purple light, with emotive background music. The art from the program was projected onto the wall; a white line art figure of a girl covering her eye, seemingly dismayed and hurt. As we took in the surroundings, we overheard an audience member express how they were excited to learn more about Glaucoma. They were coming into the play with no prior information and this, to us, was such a great thing to hear – this play was allowing for people to become educated about the condition.
Just after 7pm we were greeted by the director Katie Orr - a very special person to Bianca. They had connected four years prior to the play, and discovered that they were both visually impaired. For Bianca to be able to talk to and share experiences with someone the same age was something she described as making her feel seen, comforted, and empathized with. She wrote in her program that she was so happy to work with someone who truly cares, and felt like this was a great opportunity to prove that a person's disabilities does not define who they are.
As Bianca entered the stage she was welcomed with applause. We found ourselves in an exam room with her at at a more recent time in her life. With her chin nestled on a chinrest we observed as the technician investigated the angles between her cornea and iris, a main indicator assessed in glaucoma investigation. We hear a voiceover play on the speakers ‘blink … blink …. blink ….’ while poor Bianca sits there terrified that something else has happened again.
She brings us back to when everything began for her, at just 11. Following a very innocent observation that she could 'see rainbows', she described how her dad dropped a bowl in complete shock. She said that he instantly knew something was wrong, as he too had this happen to him at the same age. These, unknown to her, were symptoms of a retinal detachment.
A retinal detachment is a medical emergency, where a thin layer of tissue (the retina) pulls away from its normal position at the back of the eye. The cells in this layer are detached from the layer of blood vessels that provide oxygen to the back of the eye. Typically, the longer it goes untreated the greater the risk of permanent vision loss in the eye.
Bianca, at just 11, had a complete macula-off retinal detachment in her left eye. For the first time in her life she needed major eye surgery. She described to us the pain, the fear, and her lack of mobility during the weeks it took to heal. She told us how she hated the care team (played by Nena Oshita) and how she blamed them for the agonizing pain she was in. She remembers being wheeled away from surgery and feeling every bump and jolt in the wheelchair, especially between the lip of the floor and the elevator. She then tells us that she quickly gets thrown into her second surgery, a preventative procedure on her right eye. Soon after she had two more surgeries, followed by cataract surgery performed by Dr. Astorino, followed by a SIXTH surgery.
More recently, she was diagnosed with glaucoma, the degenerative eye condition which the play title ‘tunnel vision’ lends itself to. The program for the play does an immaculate job of explaining what the condition is, as does Bianca who mimics a TED-talk/stand-up routine during part of the play. To borrow from the program and the Glaucoma Research Foundation: “Glaucoma is a complex disease in which damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness.”
The program then explains that Glaucoma occurs as a result of damage to the optic nerve, whether it be from eye trauma/injury, the over-use of steroids, genetics, or simply old age. There are a variety of eye drops, in-office procedures and surgery. In Bianca’s case, she takes five types of drops multiple times a day and has had four in-office procedures; surgery will be a last resort due to increased risk from previous eye trauma.
Throughout the rest of the play Bianca brings up topics such as a fear of driving due to her reduced peripheral vision, her lack of range of movement, and feeling unseen. She brings up an instance with a ‘jock’ who made fun of her for not being able to see, and one scene addresses her fear of the dark. She brings up the catch-22 scenario that she faces, in that she could undergo glaucoma surgery and risk losing her sight, or just let the degenerative condition leave her slowly becoming blind. Ultimately, the audience feels so much agony for both her and others in a similar situation.
Yet, despite this, an incredible quality that Bianca possesses is that she was able to harness her condition to better herself, to become empowered and driven, and to give her a strong sense of self. Not only does she pursue acting, she also became a certified pilates instructor, a way of exercise that she found was perfect for Glaucoma. It allows for free movement of the body in a way that is non-stressful or dangerous for the condition.
Perhaps the most important thing that her drive brought her to do though was to investigate advancements in Glaucoma research. This is where she found and met with the Glaucoma Research Foundation who are working on a cure to restore the damaged nerve endings caused by the disease. This foundation, which has been growing up and following her throughout her life, is putting the brilliant minds of talented scientists together in an attempt to create a future from Glaucoma. Their ground-breaking flagship research foundation is the ‘Catalyst for a Cure’, which has the goals of preserving the optic nerve, repairing the nerve, and then rebuilding damaged nerves.
We felt immensely honored to be present at this showing, and we really hope that Bianca gets the opportunity to bring this play to other people across the world. It goes beyond saying that it is such an emotional, educative, and captivating experience.
Bianca, thank you so much for the wonderful night! As always we wish you the best with your vision, and everything that your future has to bring. We have known you such a long time, and you have grown into such a spectacular person. You are a force for change, and such a pleasure to know.