Smiling parents holding young children at beach

Restoring vision lost to diabetic retinopathy

October 02, 2020 | Ernie Romo
Jennifer and Ernie Romo at UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute event

"My life is brighter and filled with more adventure, which I will continue to capture on canvas," says artist Ernie Romo, pictured with wife Jennifer at a UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute event.
Photo by Carlos Puma / UCI Health Advancement

When not at his job as a restaurant executive, Ernie Romo loves to paint — outdoors and in his studio.

That passion was almost taken from him in the fall of 2017 when the Mission Viejo man experienced a sudden loss of vision in his right eye due to type 1 diabetes.

Upon meeting retina specialist Dr. Mitul Mehta at the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute (GHEI) for his vision loss, he knew he was in good and capable hands. Mehta diagnosed diabetic retinopathy — hemorrhaging of the blood vessels in the retina — and performed successful surgery.

With his vision restored, Romo and his wife, Jennifer, have become supporters of the 20/20 Society, a group that raises funds to support GHEI research.

Ernie Romo in his own words

What frightened me the most was not knowing the cause of my vision loss. I woke up on a Monday morning with black lines and a haze in my right eye.

I had this sinking desperation after wiping my eye and realizing it wasn’t going away. Fear and panic began to set in. My initial assumption was that I had wiped my eye with some type of solvent or pigment from my art supplies the night before.

I remember standing in front of the mirror, being really hard on myself and praying that it would be OK.

Rushing to the eye doctor 

What followed was a rapid succession of appointments at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.

On Monday afternoon, images and scans were performed. Tuesday I met Dr. Mehta and received his official diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy. Wednesday was my pre-op where my first eye injection was administered. Thursday was surgery day. Friday was my post-op.

It was surreal when the bandage was peeled away. I realized I could see light and people in the room. Instead of foggy silhouettes, they were the faces of the people I love.

My vision before this trauma was 20/20 and now it is 20/15.

Calm and confident

Dr. Mehta embodies the calm, confident approachability I needed throughout this journey. He gave me a sense of security but not a false sense of hope.

I have received care across many areas at UCI Health — from primary care and endocrinology to thyroid treatment and now retinopathy surgery.

UCI has consistently treated me with warmth and kindness that transcends the incredible research and technologies that are at their disposal.

No longer a victim of diabetes

Before UCI, I felt like a victim of my diabetes. I’ve had my hope reinstated — because if I face any complications in the future, UCI is my healthcare home. My health over these past five years has improved beyond what I ever thought possible.

I live with a new sense of certainty. I am in control, and I can continue on this road of improvement one step at a time in the right direction. My family shares in this victory with me with their support and newfound hope.

My life is brighter and filled with more adventure, which I will continue to capture on canvas. My hope is that by sharing my story, I can be a support for other type 1 diabetics who may feel like victims.

I’d like to say to them: There is hope.


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