Vision — and hope — renewed

UCI Health expert inspires woman to undergo surgery, restores sight

April 17, 2015
Renee Montague's sight was restored after surgery with Dr. Garg

Renee Montague had all but given up hope for recovering her vision.

In seven years, Montague had endured four invasive eye surgeries, worn 12 sets of contact lenses and consulted a number of specialists in a fruitless search to regain her sight.

“I was at the end of my rope when I met Dr. Garg,” she recalled. Sumit (Sam) Garg, MD, serves as the medical director at the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute and interim co-chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

Today Montague, 62, who develops curriculum and training for large corporations, is such an admirer that she calls herself one of “Garg’s groupies.” She has become a donor to the institute and declares that her April 2014 ocular implant surgery restored her confidence along with her eyesight.

It all began eight years ago when Montague was watching television and felt a sensation like a rubber band breaking in her right eye. After noticing a transparent yellow substance floating there, she consulted a Long Beach eye specialist. Two days later, after he told her that “floaters are common in people your age,” a black spot marred her vision and she was referred to a retina specialist.

Diagnosed with a macular hole, Montague decided on surgery. But during the healing process, her retina detached and doctors discovered that a cataract was clouding her vision. Montague’s lens was removed in a subsequent surgery.

After that, Montague relied solely on her left eye as she wrote, attended meetings and made presentations. “I felt disabled without that vision,” she said.

By chance, Montague was referred to Garg. He explained her options and described the technology, equipment and procedures available at the institute in Irvine, where the emphasis on teaching and research gave her the confidence to proceed.

“Dr. Garg took time with me and gave me a level of comfort others did not,” she recalled. “He told me, ‘I know I can help you,’ in a way that made me feel confident.”

“Having surgery can be very anxiety-provoking for patients,” Garg said. “I try to do my best to alleviate fears by discussing positive but realistic outcomes. With Renee, I explained what course of action I thought was best for her and how I had come to that decision.”

Even so, Montague had reservations and asked a lot of questions. “He doesn’t let his ego get in the way of treating patients,” she noted. “He’s patient and very truthful. I scheduled the surgery and backed out the first three times. The fourth time, he said, ‘I know you’re scared. All surgeries are risky, but I believe that I can help you.’ And I went ahead.”

When a nurse removed the bandage the following day, Montague could read the eye chart on the wall. She now is able to drive and can read 10-point print. “I’m not as nervous or anxious, on edge, wondering whom I’m going to bump into,” she noted. “I’m more confident.”

“I’m so happy for Renee,” Garg said. “When I see her now, I get a big smile. What a great result for such a great person.”

After meeting Garg, Montague said, “I couldn’t see myself putting my sight in the hands of anyone else. When I made my donation to have a brick placed in the institute courtyard, I put ‘Renee Montague: Thank you, Dr. Garg, you are awesome. If you ever want to elect a president of the Dr. Garg Groupie Association, call me.’”

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Featured in Gavin Herbert Eye Institute Newsletter - Spring 2015 Issue