An Eye-Deal Operation

Former NBA coach finds ‘perfect place’ for cataract surgery.

Brian Hill

The Orlando Magic’s best season ever was the 57-win campaign they put together in 1994-95. It was a season that culminated in the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals, and while Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway were the stars of that team, the leader was head coach Brian Hill.

During six seasons as their head coach, Hill guided the Magic to the NBA playoffs four times and twice took them as far as the Eastern Conference finals. But that 1994-95 season will always stand out to him as his greatest achievement.

“I would say that coaching Shaquille O’Neil and Penny Hardaway and going to the NBA Finals that year was probably the high point of my career,” says Brian, who coached basketball for 45 years, including 27 at the NBA level.

Brian, 73, no longer coaches, but he remains involved in basketball and the team as a television analyst for Fox Sports Florida, the network that broadcasts Magic games.

“I work all the pregame, halftime and postgame shows, and I really enjoy it,” Brian explains. “It keeps me involved, but it doesn’t come with all the restrictions that come with coaching.

Coaching consumes a great deal of your time and keeps you away from your family and everything else. I loved it, but I joke now that the only thing I worry about after a game is what bottle of wine I’m going to open up when I get home.”

That’s not to say broadcasting is stress-free. For a while, analyzing games became a bit of a juggling act for Brian after his reading vision became so compromised that he had to wear “cheaters” to see his notes clearly.

“Like most people, my ability to read started to fade when I was in my mid-40s,” Brian reveals. “That’s when I started using cheaters. Then in my 60s, my vision got a little worse, so I actually got a pair of prescription glasses, but only for reading.

“The problem was that it got to be a headache to have to take them on and off while I was on TV. I’d throw them on to read something real quick while I was off camera, but then I’d have to rip them off as soon I was back on.”

In time, it wasn’t just Brian’s reading vision that became compromised. Though his distance vision remained mostly clear, his intermediate vision began to fade. The reason, he soon learned, was the development of cataracts.

On Your Time

Cataracts are a clouding of the natural lens of the eye that is caused by a breakdown of lens fibers, a clumping of the eye’s proteins, or both. They may cause blurred vision, an increase in sensitivity to light or a reduction in the vibrancy of colors. Many times, patients do not realize how impaired their vision was until after surgery.

Brian first learned he had cataracts a year ago at the Center for Advanced Eye Care in Vero Beach, where they were diagnosed by his ophthalmologist, Edward S. Branigan III, MD. Dr. Branigan then referred Brian to his colleague, William J. Mallon, MD.

“I first saw Brian back in the spring,” Dr. Mallon reports. “At the time, he was having more trouble with his right eye than his left, and he had been experiencing a gradual worsening of vision for about a year that was affecting his work.

Dr. Mallon says “cataracts don’t get better,” but he emphasizes that it’s up to the patient to decide if and when the cataracts should be removed.

“I always tell patients that they are the only ones who know when they are ready for surgery,” Dr. Mallon states. “Everyone decides at a different time. I’ve had patients have surgery when their cataracts were relatively mild because their lifestyle was affected. I’ve also had patients with pretty dense cataracts whose lifestyle was not affected at all and chose to wait on surgery.

“I’ve thrown all my glasses away because I don’t need them anymore.” – Brian

“That’s why I never tell a patient when to have cataract surgery. I always put it back on the patient. I ask, Do you want to see better than you do now? Would that make your life better? If they say yes, then we proceed with surgery.”

Brian reached that level rather quickly. His cataracts were bothering him enough that he decided to undergo surgery as soon as he could, so he took advantage of a break in the NBA season last summer and scheduled the procedures.

Cataract surgery is performed one eye at a time. There is typically a one or two week interval between the surgeries. The entire procedure routinely takes less than ten minutes and is done with the patient fully awake and alert using eyedrop anesthesia.

The cataract is removed using ultrasound that breaks the lens up into small pieces that are gently vacuumed out. An artificial intraocular lens, or IOL, is then implanted. Made of a flexible clear material, IOLs are folded, allowing them to be placed in the eye through a tiny self-sealing incision. They are then unfolded and secured in place.

IOLs permanently correct vision and come in various forms. Traditional monofocal IOLs correct vision at a single focal point and patients can choose distance, intermediate, or near. Patients may also elect to have one eye fixed for distance and the other fixed for reading, a pairing called monovision.

Multifocal IOLs are another great option. While they are considered the best option for patients seeking to reduce their dependence on glasses, not all patients are good candidates for them. Multifocal lenses act like bifocal lenses to correct distance and reading or intermediate vision.

“The Perfect Place”

Cataract surgery alleviated Brian’s need for glasses.

Prior to surgery, Brian spent a few weeks wearing contact lenses that simulated the vision the IOLs would provide. After trying monovision, he settled on multifocal lenses that corrected for reading and distance.

And correct it they have. Since undergoing the surgery and being implanted with multifocal IOLs, Brian sees 20/15 at a distance and 20/20-plus when reading.

“I’ve thrown all my glasses away because I don’t need them anymore,” Brian exudes. “My vision is excellent at all distances, whether I’m reading a book, working on a computer, watching TV or trying to read a sign on the highway down the road. It’s like that day or night, so I no longer have any vision issues whatsoever.”

The former coach reports that his surgery was easy and comfortable.

“And this is coming from someone who never had any type of operation prior to this,” he says. “You’re actually awake through the whole process, but all the concerns I had went away immediately because of how well they take care of you. Dr. Mallon is excellent, and his entire staff – all the nurses and attendants – are the same way.

“I really like that his practice is a full-service practice. You can get your eyes tested there, you can get your glasses there and you can have cataract surgery there. You can get everything you need in one place and to me, that’s great.

“I love that convenience. At the Center for Advanced Eye Care, they have the ideal operation. It’s the perfect place to go to take care of any vision problems.”

© FHCN article by Roy Cummings. Photos by Jordan Pysz. mkb
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