NAME: Earl Watson
TEAM: UCLA Bruins
INJURY: Retinal hole, left eye
OTHER ATHLETES AFFECTED
Similar injuries -- Hockey: Bryan Berard, Toronto Maple Leafs; Football: Joe Panos, Buffalo Bills; Dan Clemente, Harvard Crimson
HOW IT HAPPENED
Watson was diagnosed with a hole in the retina of his left eye after suffering a blow to the eye in the Bruins' second round victory vs. Maryland. Doctors believe that the hole had been there for some time, and if it had not been diagnosed when it was, it would not have been found until his physical before the start of next season. In the game, Watson was hit by Jason Blake's elbow and was cut above his eye. He received four stitches, but his eye was almost swollen shut and quite painful the next morning; the eye was examined and the hole detected. He probably suffered the injury during another basketball-related incident in which he received trauma to the eye.
Guard Earl Watson is a junior at UCLA. He had a school-record 16 assists, along with no turnovers and 17 points, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, against Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Watson has started an amazing 96 straight games, or every UCLA game over his three years at the school. A co-captain of the team, Watson is 6'1" and was raised in Kansas City. Coming out of high school in 1997, he was the second-rated senior in the nation.
WHAT IS A HOLE IN THE RETINA?
A retinal hole is, as it sounds, a small hole in the retina. The retina is a piece of nerve tissue that lies in the back two-thirds of the eye. It is the tissue that converts light into the electrical signal that the brain can interpret. Two related injuries -- tears and holes -- are sometimes confused and are often referred to interchangeably. Both injuries are dangerous because the retina lies flat against the back of the eye; when there is a hole or tear, fluid can pass through the opening and cause the retina to lift off of the back of the eye. This can increase the risk of further, more serious damage.
Both holes and tears are most often caused by direct trauma to the eye. In these instances, due to outside pressure, the eye is temporarily misshapen, and because the retina is delicately held in place by jelly within the eye, the subsequent pulling from different sides can cause the thin layer of tissue to tear. This type of injury is called a "closed globe injury" (wholly within the eye, with the eye remaining intact) as opposed to an "open globe injury" (in which something enters the eye; the eye has a perforating injury).
Tears are far more common than holes. In Watson's case, like most, the hole or tear is near the front part of the retina (called the ora). When the retina tears or is injured in any way, a patient might see a flash of light (called photopsia), and if there is a hemorrhage, could see "floaters" or splotches in his vision. After the event, the patient might see a black curtain across his vision that slowly moves to cover the entire line of sight, which could indicate that the retina has come off the back of the eye (retinal detachment).
Inner eye injuries are diagnosed by ocular exam. Doctors will examine the eye and search around the retina looking for inconsistencies, tears, and holes. Tears to ora are often quite difficult to find because doctors must peer almost perpendicularly into the eye. These exams are done using lights that enable the doctor to see into the eye and look very closely at the retina, pupil, lens, and ora of the eye.
The standard treatment for minor defects in the retina is laser surgery. It works because the microscopic beams of light are shined into the eye, and are picked up by the pigments behind the retina. This controlled welding bonds the retina and the wall of the eye. Over about two months, the laser treatment develops into an "elegant little scar" that prevents the retina from detaching further. If the retina does detach completely, it can no longer be treated using laser surgery. In this case, incisional surgery is necessary to reflatten the retina because the pigment of the retina will not pick up the laser unless it is firmly in place against the back of the eye. The laser surgery is mainly a preventive procedure, protecting the eye from future injuries that would occur more easily if the eye were already damaged.
There is no way to specifically prevent this type of injury. However, the use of face shields, goggles, masks, and helmets decreases the chance of a foreign object reaching the eye and, therefore, decrease the risk of injury. There has been recent debate as to whether all hockey players should be forced to wear face shields due to the career-threatening injury that Bryan Berard recently suffered.
Laser surgery is quite amazing because it requires no active recovery. The treated area will heal itself over about 2 months, and there are no post-surgery restrictions or even exercises. It is a procedure that has been made possible due to technological advances. It is remarkably accurate and has a very high success rate.
Watson should suffer no future ill effects from the injury. Due to the surgery, he will probably suffer from a minor distortion of a small portion of his peripheral vision, but this will be small enough that he will probably not notice. This distortion will gradually clear up, and the eye will continue to heal.