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Life-saving sight
Eye examination saves local man's life
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If it weren't for Dr. Andrea Washington, Craig Marshall would never have met his granddaughter.

Marshall, a diabetic, was visiting Washington for his annual comprehensive eye exam in the summer of 2009 when she caught a microscopic anomaly in the back of his left eye. Concerned, she asked Marshall a series of questions regarding his health, questions Marshall says no eye doctor had ever asked him before.

"She started asking me about my blood pressure, my cholesterol level and then, she took my blood pressure. I asked her why and she told me she thought something could be wrong, that she saw signs of a potential blockage."

Marshall went in for a scan the following week and doctors found a severe blockage in his left carotid artery - something not usually caught until after someone has a stroke or heart attack.

"My doctor told me I was a ticking time bomb. Dr. Washington saved my life.," he said.

It was all in a day's work for Washington, an optometrist who has been working in the Vision Center at Wal-Mart on Industrial Boulevard in Covington for seven years. Washington says she is trained to look for evidence of diseases result in vision loss as well as other diseases that may impact a patient's overall health. Finding the dot that saved Marshall's life was just part of a standard eye exam, she says.

"Mr. Marshall had what is known as a Hollenhurst Plaque, a clump of cholesterol on the back of his eye. I saw maybe three cases of this in my residency but never in my practice. I suspected clogged carotid arteries and made the referral for the scan before he left the office."

Back in 2009, the Vision Center didn't have the latest technology to help Washington detect a Hollenhurst Plaque. She discovered it using a slit lamp, one of the large pieces of equipment used to examine the eyes while a patient is in the chair. Washington made a push to get her office outfitted with the newest technology for comprehensive exams. She can take pictures and computer scans of the eye as well as perform advanced visual field testing with the new equipment.

Now if Washington finds something like she did in Marshall's eye, she can show the patient a photograph or computer scan to help better explain and diagnose the issue.

Marshall, who had surgery to unclog his carotid arteries just weeks after Washington made the discovery, is embracing life and his almost 1-year-old grand daughter, Allie Grace, whom he says he would never have met had it not been for Washington.

"I never really thought a lot about an optometrist. I always thought I should go to an ophthalmologist for my annual eye exam. Dr. Washington was more thorough than my past doctors. I wouldn't even have come in if my wife hadn't talked me into it.

Optometrists are trained to diagnose and treat vision conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. They are trained in prescribing eyeglasses and contact lenses. Ophthalmologists are physicians who have had four or more years of medical training including a residency and can provide medical care for things such as cataracts, glaucoma, tumors and more. Washington graduated from the University of Missouri at St. Louis and completed an optional residency at the University of Houston.

As a small child, Washington suffered from headaches due to poor vision. This was diagnosed by an optometrist after visiting many other doctors and enduring many other tests.

"You know when the eye doctor asks you which is better? One or two? I love it. It's why I became an eye doctor. I help people see.

"When I look at the back of the eye, it's beautiful. A lot of people think that's crazy, but it's true."

Washington says many of her patients are surprised by what she can tell them about their overall health just by looking into their eyes. She says the eyes are "not in a vacuum." Once many diseases show up elsewhere in the body, it's too late as was almost the case with Craig Marshall.

"A comprehensive eye exam can save your life," Washington says.