March Madness: Optometry Edition

12:37 PM

While they are battling on the court, did you know these star basketball players are also battling poor eyesight?  Here's a look at college basketball's most prominent stars and their personal ocular challenges.

Isaiah Austin
Rec specs or sports goggles protect the good eye and are made from
shatter-resistant material like polycarbonate or Trivex via

Star center for the Baylor Bears, Isiah is never seen on the court without his rec specs for good reason.  He only has vision out of one eye.  During middle school, Isiah suffered an eye injury at age 12 when he was hit in the face by a stray ball.  His retina did not tear at that time, but doctors did warn him of potential risks.  Later in his middle school career, his vision went completely red out of the same right eye during a pre-game dunk.  He had suffered a retinal detachment at that time, and despite multiple surgeries, his vision was entirely lost.  He now wears a prosthetic shell over the right eye for cosmesis, and until recently only very close friends even knew he had just one eye that could see.  His sports goggles help protect his good eye from suffering similar accidental damage, much like NBA star Amari Stoudemire who also lost an eye to retinal detachment.

Isaiah Austin's right eye prosthetic is almost indistinguishable from his normal left eye.  That's the power of a great prosthetic -- they can be hand painted to perfectly match your other eye!  via

Otule volunteers with visually disabled children often due his own
inspirational story of achieving success despite blindness in one eye via
Chris Otule

Marquette's center also wears a prosthetic eye (his left) but his blindness was not from an injury, but rather from a childhood ocular disease.  Glaucoma can strike at any age -- often we think of it as associated with aging, but some people are even born with glaucoma.  Glaucoma is a painless nerve death that destroys peripheral vision first before causing the eye to become completely blind.  Otule's left eye has been completely blind since age 2, so he has never known anything other than seeing the world with one eye.  As a child, doctors discouraged him from playing sports due to the risk of injury to his only remaining eye, but with the protection of sports goggles, he started playing and excelling in basketball.  
Interestingly, Marquette coach Buzz Williams sold Otule on attending Marquette by directly discussing his ocular issues.  A recent USA Today article quoted William's pitching the best sports goggles technology available to combat glare and fogging as one of the many reasons to play basketball for his squad.  Otule has also been fitted for a new prosthetic (he hadn't had a new one since age 8!!) while at Marquette. 

It's been great to see two current basketball stars overcoming having only one functional eye, and to see how much support they have been given by teammates, coaches, and fans.  Hopefully their presence on the court will raise awareness for the need for regular eye examinations in all children from birth.  Both players are a testament to resilience -- neither of them used blindness as an excuse to prevent them from playing the game that they love, and both have embraced the  great technology we have to protect their eyesight for years to come!

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