Vision drug offers new hope to diabetic patients

AUSTIN (KXAN) — 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes, and six million of them have vision related problems, often leading to blindness. The most common of those conditions is Diabetic Macular Edema, which causes inflammation, fluid buildup around the eye and poor to negligible vision. The FDA has approved a new drug treatment called Iluvien. It could mean less doctors visits, greater vision improvement and hope for patients spread across Central Texas.

Macular Edema hit Ciro Zarazua hard five years ago. He had to give up his construction job in Fredericksburg and much more. “It’s not easy,” he said. “I can see and do some things, like walk or make my food. The most important things: I can’t drive; I can’t work or take my kids to school.”

Ciro’s condition deteriorated to functional blindness at one point. Cataract surgery helped some, but he still suffered inflammation, fluids and poor vision. Monthly steroid injections of up to $1,800 a visit also helped somewhat.

“They tried many things to me and I still did not see like I did before,” Zarazua said.

This week, Zarazua received his first treat of Iluvien, approved last September by the FDA and new to Austin. The $8,000 treatment, which is covered by insurance, is good for two to three years, and offers hope for greater vision, with fewer trips from Fredericksburg.

“It’s going to be good for me,” Zarazua said smiling. “It’s not easy to get here from Fredericksburg and sometimes my wife gets sick and can’t drive.”

Iluvien has previously been available in England and Germany, and it is pending in 17 other countries. Now, it has come to the United States.

“The treatment burden is dramatically reduced,” said Dr. Chirag Jhaveri, a surgeon with Retina Consultants of Austin. “Their vision can stay stable and improved for a very long period of time so this can change a patient’s vision and life dramatically.”

The injection procedure takes minutes and the time release drug can work for up to 36 months. Ciro hopes to be back to work someday, and more, “I can take my kids to the park, play with them,” he said.

Ciro’s wife Elizabeth drove him home after the treatment. When he comes back for a follow-up visit in a month, Ciro hopes maybe he will be behind the wheel.

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