Coming Full Circle
Patient: Veronica Zenkner
Diagnosis: Stevens Johnson syndrome
Sight Restored: November 2011
It was the spring of 2003. As millions do every day, 13 year old Veronica Zenkner took two ibuprofen for her headache. It wasn’t the first time that she had taken ibuprofen, but it would be the last. Because this time, Veronica’s life was forever changed.
This time, Veronica developed Stevens Johnson syndrome (SJS), a violent reaction to certain medications that can cause severe blistering of the skin and mucous membranes, including the eyes. She survived, but was left with scarring on her face and body, and her eyes were badly damaged.
She was able to return to her studies in the fall as an 8th grader in DeKalb, Illinois, but found middle school to be a hostile, isolating place: “I went back to school and saw how differently people were treating me, how they looked at me.” Depression soon followed.
Over the next few years, as she lived with red, itchy eyes that she covered with sunglasses, rain or shine, her depression continued to deepen. “I felt so ugly because of my eyes. I just didn’t want to go out at all.” Veronica was approached by friends and strangers alike with insensitive questions (“Are you crying?” “Are you on drugs?”). As a teenage driver, she was even pulled over by the police and subjected to field sobriety tests because of her bloodshot appearance. She tried “every over the counter eye drop there is” with no improvement to her dry and painful eyes. (A 2011 article on MSNBC.com further details her harrowing journey.)
Looking for a sense of community and the support of others who shared her journey, in 2010 Veronica posted her story on the SJS Foundation website. She was contacted by Joe Zienowicz, a fellow SJS survivor, who shared with her his transformational experience with Boston Foundation for Sight and PROSE treatment.
Soon after, Veronica traveled to BFS and met with her PROSE treatment team, BFS’ Dr. Karen Carrasquillo and Dr. Michelle Hessen, a PROSE Clinical Fellow from Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Veronica was the first patient that Dr. Hessen treated with PROSE. “Being able to successfully fit Veronica with a PROSE device was an extremely rewarding experience. It was quite obvious that PROSE treatment would have a tremendous impact on her life,” said Dr. Hessen.
The outcome? “I feel like I have my life back. Now that I have my eyes back I can go and do what I want to do and not be scared.”
Veronica is thrilled to debut her “new eyes” as a college freshman this spring. Already a certified nursing assistant, she had originally intended to go to nursing school. But now the possibilities of what she can be are limitless. Veronica is very grateful for the people in her life that supported her through thick and thin.
“Now they can appreciate me in a whole new way. I have come full circle, back to the Veronica I used to be, not one who is hiding with her head down, thanks to my doctors and PROSE!”