US mum who was blind for 15 years regains sight after discovering misdiagnosis

Connie Parke sees her daughter for the first time in 15 years after undergoing surgery for a common eye condition, pictured hugging
Connie Parke (right) sees her daughter for the first time in 15 years after undergoing surgery for a common eye condition. Photo credit: UCHealth / YouTube

A US mother who hadn't seen her children's faces for more than a decade regained her vision after discovering her condition was misdiagnosed 15 years prior.

Until a simple procedure restored her vision in 2018, Connie Parke - who resides in Aurora, Colorado - had endured more than 15 years of blindness. The 59-year-old had not seen her eldest grandchild since they were just three-weeks-old, and used her hands to 'map' the faces of her seven other grandchildren. 

When her vision first began to decline, Parke was told she was suffering from detached retinas or glaucoma. It would take more than a decade for the mum to discover she had been misdiagnosed.

An ophthalmologist eventually diagnosed Parke with cataracts, one of the most common conditions of the eye in adults. Cataracts cloud the lens of the eye, causing symptoms such as blurred or impaired vision.

However, cataracts can be removed through a relatively quick and straightforward surgical procedure - the most common surgery performed in the US - which restores eyesight to most patients. 

Speaking to The Mirror, Parke said she now has 20/20 vision in both eyes after undergoing the surgery more than two years ago. 

"People need to get rechecked because I was blind for 15 years probably for no reason. They've been doing cataract surgeries for years," she told the outlet.

In 2003, the mum first began noticing halos and prisms on car lights while driving and decided to seek medical advice. The doctor told her she had glaucoma and three weeks later, her eyesight had rapidly declined. She couldn't work, couldn't drive, and was often hurting herself.

She was informed that her condition was inoperable and blindness was inevitable. 

"I was getting lost, falling down stairs, falling up stairs and setting myself and my house on fire. I had lost over 85 percent of my sight in five and a half months," she told The Mirror.

In a bid to reclaim her independence, Parke relocated to Denver, Colorado in 2004 and enrolled in blind school, where she learned how to use a cane, read Braille and get around by walking and riding buses. Determined not to let the loss of vision impede her life, Parke continued to do the outdoor activities she enjoyed, but some parts of day-to-day life became difficult.

"I would keep walking into bushes. I had to have somebody with me when I cooked to make sure the food looked okay. I couldn't vacuum."

In 2018, Parke was referred to the UCHealth Sue Anschutz-Rodgers Eye Center in Aurora, where an ophthalmologist told her she was suffering from very dense cataracts, not a detached retina - and surgery was possible.

Parke underwent surgery on her right eye that November and on her left eye two weeks later, restoring her eyesight to 20/20 sharpness.

The 59-year-old now has a job as a unit clerk with UCHealth and is enjoying being an active grandmother to her eight grandchildren, seven of whom she had never seen before her life-changing surgery.

Although coming to terms with her aged appearance was difficult for Parke, she was happy to once again see her husband, Robert - still referring to him as "the most handsome man ever". The couple have plans to revisit the places they had travelled to while Parke was blind, and hope to open their own Christmas tree farm.

Speaking to UCHeath, Parke's ophthalmologist Dr Jeffrey SooHoo said he had been careful not to promise her perfect results - and even he was surprised by her return to "completely normal" vision.

"I have a lot of meaningful patient experiences, but this is one that really stands out in terms of making a difference in someone's life," he said.

"This is one of those sustaining and transformative experiences that reminds you why you do what you do and why it’s such a privilege."