For Susie Chan, a record-breaking endurance runner, completing ultramarathons and training 35-65 miles a week, excellent vision is essential. Challenged for years by the pain of running in spectacles, the difficulties of contact lenses in windy weather, her recent new deterioration in vision was a great cause for concern.
After consultation with a specialist, she was surprised to be diagnosed with rapid-onset cataracts, despite being only 45 years old.
Susie has completed the Marathon des Sables more times than any other UK female, broken a 12-hour treadmill World Record in 2016 covering 68 miles, run 104 miles in 24 hours and enjoys running in some of the hottest places on earth. We interviewed Susie previously here.
To achieve this, she has endured years in contact lenses – glasses are simply not an option when running – and was managing until her vision began to worsen over the past six months:
“But from September last year my vision has not been great. I assumed the lenses were not sitting well on my eyes, as that has happened before, or that it was a bad batch of lenses. But when I switched to my glasses it was still blurry.
“An eye test revealed my prescription had dropped several points and a second test after four weeks, as my vision was still not right, showed the vision had already dropped another point and so I was referred to Mr. Lindfield.”
Her surgeon, Mr. Dan Lindfield, from Optegra Eye Hospital (view his profile here) revealed that she had early onset cataracts. He explained they had progressed rapidly in the right eye and a cataract was also forming in her left eye. The only treatment was surgery for Susie Chan.
This gives the opportunity to be free of glasses and contact lenses as well as cataract, all in the one procedure.
Susie opted to have both eyes treated on the same day, to allow a faster recovery and return to running.
“I am not squeamish about eyes at all and I know it is an operation that is carried out so often, so I did not think about it too much, I was not stressed or worried.
“It was not painful by any stretch of the imagination, just a little uncomfortable with pressure on the eyes, but it was so quick, and the team chatted all the way through so it was a relaxed atmosphere.
“Literally the next day I looked out the window, and it was unbelievable. All the detail I could not see before! It was so much sharper. I have a rural view and always enjoyed the trees, but now I could see branches and twigs – my sight is better even than in my previous glasses or contact lenses. It’s remarkable.”
Susie’s surgeon, Mr Dan Lindfield, said: “Susie was unfortunate to develop cataract at such a young age but it gave her the opportunity to evaluate her options. She opted for trifocal toric intraocular lens implants (IOLs) after we discussed her needs and expectations.
As well as running, Susie’s successful career also includes race commentating for half and full marathons, triathlons and ironman content, which she loves: “It is great to be in the commentary box, it is really good fun and I love to see people on their running journey.”
She is also a motivational speaker and was named the number one runner to follow on Instagram by Runners World and the Evening Standard.
Since lockdown, many people have taken up the challenge of running and her advice to those ‘newbies’ is: “I genuinely promise that the first couple of weeks are the toughest. I have run a very long way and achieved a world record, but the first weeks are very tough. Everything feels a little bit harder than it will ever do again.
“If you can get through those, things get easier and it becomes a bit more effortless. So keep doing it! If some days are tough, that is very normal and my advice is to just keep going!”
Susie’s recent op means she can see so much more clearly now while running. Glasses and contacts are a thing of the past and she is enjoying being able to run again, and especially keep watch on her dog as he goes in and out of bushes while he runs with her. The only downside? “I can now see that I really need to clean my windows and there is a lot more dog hair in the house than I realised!”