In the summer of 2018, Alameda Health System (AHS) glaucoma patient Dushown Ledbetter was waiting to catch a bus home from the Bay Fair BART station, a trip he had taken many times before but on this day in a matter of minutes what he describes as a “thick fog” covered both his eyes leaving him with severely limited vision.

“When it happened my heart sank, I got spooked and I did the dumbest thing,” shared Ledbetter. “With the little vision I had, l could really only see my feet, but I decided to slowly walk the three miles, stopping at times along the way.”

Left to right: Jonathan Hernandez, MD, chief of ophthalmology and AHS patient Dushown Ledbetter.

What would normally be a 45-minute walk for Ledbetter took him more than an hour and a half.

Miraculously, he made it home safely, the fog lifted and shortly thereafter he met with Jonathan Hernandez, MD, chief of ophthalmology, whom he credits for saving his sight. “Dushown had developed a juvenile form of glaucoma that led to severe damage of his vision,” shared Dr. Hernandez. “His eye pressures had become elevated and he was actively going blind,” he said.

After performing successful surgery, called a trabeculectomy, in each eye, Dr. Hernandez and his team were able to lower the eye pressures in both eyes to a level where Ledbetter’s optic nerve was no longer being injured. “Both surgeries are still working well and he currently only takes a maintenance steroid drop once a day to prevent his body from scarring over the surgical sites,” he said.

Today Ledbetter’s life is full, raising two kids, working for Lucky Stores and spending time in the studio making music. An accomplished musician and rapper he produces his own beats and counts Lil Wayne as well as Bay Area rap legends E-40 and Too $hort as inspirations. Glaucoma is a chronic disease that Ledbetter lives with but does not define him. “I’m killing it,” he happily shared. “I feel empowered, my vision is good and I’m not letting anything hold me back.”

Fortunately, for ophthalmology patients like Ledbetter, Dr. Hernandez leads a highly-skilled team experienced in treating juvenile glaucoma, a fairly rare disease that occurs only in about one in 100,000 people. His team is also highly skilled in treating the most common types of glaucoma, including primary open angle glaucoma and primary angle closure glaucoma.

While anyone can get glaucoma, Dr. Hernandez shared it tends to affect minority populations and underserved communities disproportionately. As a result, the majority of patients come to him at late stages of the disease. “Although at AHS we tend to see severe forms of glaucoma, we have the expertise and experience necessary to treat these conditions optimally,” he said.

Dr. Hernandz shared that when a patient’s eye pressure cannot be controlled with medications or lasers, then glaucoma surgery is needed to save the vision. “We are well-versed in both minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries as well as all traditional incisional glaucoma surgeries.”

Ledbetter is grateful for his surgery and expert care he continues to receive at AHS, and he credits Dr. Hernandez not only for preserving his sight but for treating him as more than a patient. “From day one he’s had my back, seeing me as person first who is genuinely interested in my life and well-being,” shared Ledbetter. “Whether it’s a call or an email, he regularly hits me up to see how I’m doing and he never fails to ask about my music and what’s new in my life.”

Dr. Hernandez’s passion for his patients is always at the center of the service he provides. “For me there is no greater joy than seeing my patients live productive and joyful lives because it means the treatments are working,” he said. “At AHS we treat thousands of patients with eye conditions every year, and this means we are making a huge positive impact on our community.”