Quick-thinking doc helps ALS patient see a better future

Quick-thinking doc helps ALS patient see a better future

A home-brewed attachment for glasses helps a 21 year old keep his eyes open, preserving contact with the world around him

Dr. Dan Navon (L.) and Ofir Mandelman (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Dan Navon (L.) and Ofir Mandelman (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israeli ALS patient Ofir Mandelman, who has lost control of his eyelids, got some life-changing help from Dr. Dan Navon, a top ophthalmologist for the Clalit Health Fund in Haifa. To keep his eyes open — and his hope alive — Navon fashioned a special pair of eyeglasses with a protrusion that fits under Mandelman’s eyes to keep them up. “It’s the best we could do under the circumstances, until something better comes along,” Navon said. “At least now he won’t be isolated, alone in the dark.”

One of the inevitable effects of ALS, the debilitating neurodegenerative disease that shuts down muscle use, is the eventual incapacitation of the eyelids. Although many people are familiar with ALS — especially after the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign this past summer, in which celebrities and ordinary people dumped ice water on their heads to raise money for ALS research — this particular effect of the disease can be surprising. Loss of the ability to control their eyelids — and the resultant loss of connection to the world around them — is, for many ALS patients, a final blow that brings many of them to throw in the towel, losing the will to survive.

Keeping hope alive is essential in treating ALS patients — and very difficult, because many of them clearly remember a time when they had full control of their body, Navon said. “It’s especially hard for a 21 year old like Ofir,” because he is aware of what he is missing out on. “All ALS patients eventually face this scenario, and many of them decide that they have had enough.”

The device that can counter this depressing outcome is actually simple — a piece of silicon-covered metal that rests right under the eyelids, propping them up. It’s entirely manual, and stationary, keeping the eyelids in an upright position. With that, the device serves its function, said the doctor – enabling his patient to see what is going on around him, and watch television, one of Mandelman’s favorite pastimes. To clean the eyes and wipe away dust, one of the eyelids’ functions, Mandelman’s device must add artificial tears to his eyes on a regular basis, said Navon.

Such a device was apparently not available in Israel. “I looked around for something like this but didn’t find it, so I decided to create one myself,” Navon said, adding that if they had been obtainable in Israel, he probably would have come across one, given his 20-plus years in the ophthalmology field.

In fact, however, Navon didn’t invent this. They are in use among the elderly in the US and Europe. Known as Ptosis Crutches used to assist elderly victims of “drooping eye” conditions ptosis and myasthenia Gravis, the devices are similar to what Navon came up with. They are attached to glasses and are usually custom-made to fit the head and eye of the patient.

As such, it’s unlikely that Navon will commercialize his creation, “even though there are probably a lot of people suffering from ptosis and similar conditions who would benefit from this,” he said. “I’m too busy doing what I do, and I am not interested in turning this into a business. But if someone could come up with a way to commercialize and mass-produce this, I will be happy to hand them over my plans, and my blessings. If they can help people, why not?”

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