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U.S. defender requires unique eye surgery
by Ridge Mahoney, October 16th, 2009 7AM



[U.S. SOCCER] His medical situation isn't nearly as serious as those of teammates Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies, yet U.S. defender Jay DeMerit will undergo eye surgery Monday in London.

DeMerit is suffering from an eye infection and will need to have the cornea in his left eye replaced. The procedure will be performed by Dr. Julian Stevens at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in a new procedure that DeMerit says will cut his recovery time in half.

"There's only one place in the United States that does it and only one place in Europe, and that's in London, so I'm really fortunate to be there," says DeMerit, who debunks reports that he cut himself putting in a contact lens. "A lot of people in Europe fly into London to have this surgery done."

The scarred portion of the cornea, which is the clear, disc-shaped part of the eye that covers the pupil, is cut out with a laser and replaced, either with a similar piece from a human donor or an artificial one manufactured from transparent polymers.

"They'll cut out the exact same shape of the cornea with these high-tech lasers, just drop it in a new one and stitch my eye," says DeMerit. "With this new procedure, they hope I can be out in a month or two, which to be honest, isn't that bad. The traditional way they said I'd be out three or four months."

DeMerit says his cornea was scratched by a dust particle or piece of grit that got underneath his contact lens. By the time eye drops began to heal the cut an infection had taken hold. Powerful antibiotics used to combat the infection caused the scarring that will require removal.

"After about 24 hours, my eye looked like a zombie eye, my pupil had turned white, and my iris and retina had turned a different color," says DeMerit. "It was such a freak thing and very scary. I've worn contacts for 10 years and I've been getting dust particles in my eyes all my life,

"It's just a blur. I would potentially have blurry vision, permanently, if I didn't have the surgery. Now I have to have a corneal replacement, that's like a normal thing that people do, but that's the reality of the situation. I have to stay positive about it."

DeMerit says he scheduled Lasix surgery last summer so that he'd no longer have to wear contact lenses, but the team's success in the Confederations Cup deprived him of the recovery time he'd have needed before reporting to Watford for preseason training.

DeMerit's performance in the Confederations Cup, where the USA upset the world's best team, Spain, established him as a key defender for the USA. 

"I had the appointment booked and everything, but we ran out of time," he says. "Now I really wish I would have had it done, obviously."

DeMerit's eye injury, which he suffered in late September, is another stroke of bad luck for the U.S. team.

Serious injuries Davies suffered in a car crash could require a year to heal and may end his career; Onyewu tore the patellar tendon in his left knee Wednesday against Costa Rica and will be out an estimated three to four months.

DeMerit is anxious, yet realistic.

"I don't want to rush or do anything that could increase the risk to my eye but I do want to get back as quickly as possible with the right attitude," says DeMerit. "We're really lucky in the sense that we're surrounded by the best doctors and the best physios and best trainers, as professional athletes, to get that kind of care. Together, we'll get it sorted out and I'll get back out there. That's the goal and I' m all confident that it will happen."






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