Athlete Keeps his Eye on the Ball After Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® Volunteer Discovers Rare Corneal Anomaly


Christina Harris - 2013-06-12 12:49:46

Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) athlete, Daniel Janulewicz, 22, is like many young men his age. He’s a baseball junkie, a basketball fanatic, a team player, and doesn’t make medical appointments a priority.

“He is stubborn and doesn’t like to go to the doctor or dentist,” said Bonnie Janulewicz, Daniel’s mother. “He only went to the doctor because he had to get a physical to participate in Special Olympics!”

Nearly five years had passed since Daniel booked his last appointment with the optometrist. But, when Daniel’s coach took the team to see volunteer medical professionals at Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® at the SOWI State Indoor Sports Tournament between basketball games, he was right behind them.

“It helped that the other team players were going,” said Bonnie. “It was a healthy type of peer pressure.”

And it may have saved Daniels sight. When Daniel visited Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes, a program designed to provide quality eye care for all people with developmental disabilities, the volunteer medical professionals discovered a rare anomaly in both his eyes called keratoconus. This is a degenerative disorder of the eye in which structural changes within the cornea cause it to thin and change to a more conical shape than its normal gradual curve.

After noting the distortion, the doctors referred Daniel to a corneal ophthalmologist right away. A few weeks later, he met with the specialist to assess the damage.

“We found out that one eye is advanced and he is now legally blind in that eye,” said Bonnie. “It had gotten to the point where he had double vision and couldn’t read. Unfortunately the other eye is also starting to be affected and is in the moderate stage. They might be able to use an experimental treatment to stop this eye from progressing.”

According to Bonnie, doctors advised Daniel to either have a transplant or use a hard contact. Daniel opted to wear the contact since it wouldn’t interfere with his sports. On May 10, just a month after visiting volunteer medical professionals at Healthy Athletes, Daniel met with optometrist Dr. Grace Brown to have the contacts fitted.

“What an improvement!” exclaimed Dr. Brown after conducting Daniel’s eye exam with the new contacts. “When Daniel first came in he couldn’t see the big “E” on the wall. Now he has 20/30 vision with both eyes open.”

According to Dr. Brown, the big “E” is equivalent to 20/400 vision. This means that when Daniel stands 20 feet from the chart, he can see less than what a person with normal vision standing over 400 feet away can see.  After having the specialty contacts fitted, Daniel now has 20/30 vision.

“Just think, if we had not discovered this, it would have affected his sports and his work,” said Bonnie. “They might not have been able to do anything. His vision would have been so horrible that he would not have had the option of contacts,” said Bonnie.

“This is great for Daniel,” agreed Dr. Brown. “It will help his ability to play sports, enable him to hit the ball better and become a more accurate player. It’s very exciting.”

In addition to Special Olympics, Daniel also plays on his work’s baseball team, the Seafood Center in Madison.

“He is happy that he has this taken care of,” said Bonnie. “After I told him this would help him hit better, he couldn’t wait to go to the batting cages to practice for his first game.”

The transformative power and joy of sports has connected Daniel with opportunities to not just learn a new skill, but also to meet new friends and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Through programming in sports, health, education and community building, Special Olympics is changing the lives of people, like Daniel, who have intellectual disabilities. For more information about Healthy Athletes, visit SpecialOlympicsWisconsin.org.