Surf’s Up

Melbourne surgeon saves a teenager’s eyesight.

Storm Portman was raised with a love for the water. The 17-year-old spends the majority of her free time surfing near the family’s Indialantic home on the east coast of Florida. Storm first picked up a board at age 12 and quickly mastered the sport.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Storm Portman

“She’s a natural in the water,” says Storm’s mother, Toye Hall. “As a family, we love to be in the sun and outdoors. Living in Florida, the water is something we all enjoy very much. Storm is very passionate about surfing. She used to play soccer and also dabbled in skateboarding, but eventually found her niche with surfing. The skill came naturally to her, with minimal coaching or training.”
In fact, Storm became so skilled in the sport that she is now part of the Junior Pro Circuit, traveling to places like Barbados to compete.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with it, and I absolutely love it,” Storm says enthusiastically. “I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
A surfing accident in January 2015 nearly changed all of that.
“I was surfing at Pelican Beach when I got caught in a wave, and when I came up to the surface of the water and I turned around, my surfboard hit me in the face and penetrated my eye,” Storm recalls. “I felt a pop, but no pain. I didn’t think it was that bad until I felt my eye and looked at my hand and saw blood everywhere.”
Once Storm made it to shore, her stepfather drove her to the emergency room at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne.

Ruptured Globe

“I was the surgeon on call when Storm came in with severe ocular trauma,” explains Gary J. Ganiban, MD, chief of vitreoretinal surgery at The Eye Institute for Medicine & Surgery. “Basically, the eyeball was penetrated and ruptured. The natural lens of her eye was gone, and the iris was partially gone as well. It was a very serious injury. On a scale of one to ten, I would say it was a ten. She was at an extremely high risk of losing her sight in that eye.”
Storm was rushed into emergency surgery in an attempt to save her eyesight.

“I can’t imagine what would have happened had he not been there that day – I’m confident that I would not have kept my eye.” – Storm

“What I do first with a ruptured globe repair is to stitch the eye back together,” continues Dr. Ganiban. “Once the eye is closed, we treat it with antibiotics to avoid infection.
“Two weeks post-op, there’s a risk of developing sympathetic ophthalmia, where the injury can actually affect the other eye. It’s a rare occurrence, but it can happen. Within two weeks, the patient and the surgeon need to decide whether to keep the eye or not.
“Immediately after the surgery, when I talked to Storm’s mom and family, I said, I think that we probably will have to remove this eye, and that was simply because of the severity of her injury when she arrived in the emergency room. I’ve been a surgeon for over twenty years, and I’ve seen three surfboard injuries, and this was by far the worst scenario I have witnessed.
“Storm is so young and healthy that her eye began to heal from the initial surgery. She began to see light and movement rather quickly. At the end of two weeks, we decided that I wouldn’t need to remove her eye. It was pretty miraculous.”
Storm was back in the water just three weeks after her surgery and went on to win the East Coast Championship for the second year in a row.
“It wasn’t easy to get back on my board, but I had to put my fears aside and conquer it, and thanks to Dr. Ganiban, I was able to do that.”
According to Dr. Ganiban, Storm has had two additional surgeries since that day, and her vision is currently at 20/60. He is hoping her sight will eventually get to 20/40.
“To this day, Storm’s depth perception is improving, and she remains a championship surfer, and that is a huge accomplishment,” Dr. Ganiban asserts. “After each surgery, she sees a little bit better. She still has a lot of room for improvement and is young, so she has that on her side. She has come a very long way since the day of the accident when we thought she would lose her eye.”

Beyond the Call of Duty

“Storm sees Dr. Ganiban on normal, scheduled visits now, which aren’t as frequent as they were in the beginning,” Toye says. “Anytime she feels that her eye is bothering her or she gets a headache, we’ll call for an appointment. He always fits us in that same day. He even met us shortly after the surgery in Miami to check on Storm. We met one night at his office so that he could check her vision. We could go on and on all day about how wonderful a person he is.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

The eye injury hasn’t kept Storm away from her surfboard.

“They just don’t make doctors like that anymore,” Toye continues. “He goes above and beyond, and it’s not just for her; it’s every patient. He’s amazing. He takes his time with you and listens to what’s bothering you. Nothing is too silly or too much. He’s just a phenomenal person.”
Storm agrees, adding that she is certain her surfing days would have been over if Dr. Ganiban had not been on emergency call that day.
“I can’t thank him enough,” she says. “I can’t imagine what would have happened had he not been there that day – I’m confident that I would not have kept my eye. I will be forever grateful to him. I can only hope that if anyone is ever in a similar situation, they are lucky enough to have him as their eye surgeon.”

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