Holcomb C3-R Procedure for Keratoconus Scores Olympic Medal

Bobsledder Steven Holcomb has earned another medal for the United States bobsled team, the bronze medal in two-man bobsledding Monday night.

Four years ago in Vancouver, Steven Holcomb earned a gold-medal in the four-man bobsled. On Monday, he and his pusher earned a bronze in the two-man bobsled event.

Although Holcomb performed with a calf injury, Steven overcame a much more serious condition several years ago. He was diagnosed with a condition known as Keratoconus which caused the outer lens of his eye to bulge out. His sight was distorted and a significant amount was lost altogether.

The gift of sight is important to all of us, however for some it is more critical than others. Steve Holcomb is an Olympic level bobsledder who leads a four man team. Luckily a new procedure was able to restore his sight.

Keratoconus treatment
Dr. Boxer Wachler and Bob Sledder Steve Holcomb
"Our leading Olympic bobsledder had been afflicted by Keratoconus," described Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, board certified Los Angeles opthalmologist. "If you can imagine being the driver of a bob sled which goes upwards of 90 miles per hour plus during only a minute or so - and in Steve's case, he was getting to the point where he was driving essentially blind." Rather than put the lives of his three team members at risk, he opted to retire.

"The team sent Steve to about 10 different eye surgeons and everybody told him he needed a cornea transplant," said Dr. Boxer Wachler. "Unfortunately for him, a transplant is very delicate, and in bobsledding, it's like oil and water. Being in the bobsled is very violent. Steve describes it as essentially being a peanut in a bag and you're just being shaken up."
Keratoconus treatment
Dr. Boxer-Wachler examines Steve Holcomb
When the team doctor saw that Dr. Boxer Wachler was performing a treatment known as C3-R, they decided to give it a chance. The procedure entails using a strengthening vitamin eye drop. "It's a treatment that's non-surgical and non-invasive. The team sent him out here and we determined that he was a candidate and we did the procedure. It actually strengthened and stabilized his Keratoconus and improved his vision."

They followed up with Steve who came back three months and had an ICL procedure done which implants a contact lens in the eye. He made a miraculous recovery and ended up with 20/20 vision. Steve came out of retirement and went on to win the gold medal at the 2009 world championships, a feat not accomplished by a US team in 50 years. They then took gold in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics which was the first for a US team in 62 years.

Steve has since become vocal about Keratoconus education and for getting the word out about people that suffer with the condition. "So many people came out of the wood works saying 'I have Keratoconus and my doctor never told me about these options. They only said transplant.' It's been just this world wide Public Service Announcement essentially for patients to inspire them that there are all these others procedures."

The C3-R procedure is not FDA approved, but Dr. Boxer Wachler says he's been doing it for over 8 years. The traditional treatment for Keratoconus is a cornea transplant and hard contacts. Dr. Boxer Wachler has named the procedure after Steve, dubbing it the Holcomb C3-R. After the eye drops are applied to the eye, the doctor delivers a short blast of UV light. A few months later, the implantable contact lens is inserted and vision is restored.


Update of original story published March, 2011