In mid-May, Amy Miller picked up her camera for a nature photography outing, something she has been doing for the past few years, but the day did not go as planned.
The Joliet woman is a member of the Will County Wildlife Facebook group run by the Forest Preserve District and she was hoping to post some new pictures.
But this photo trip quickly went awry. Miller knew something was wrong with her eyesight but she couldn’t figure out what it was.
“I thought it was allergies, or maybe eye strain,” she posted to the Facebook group a few weeks later. “I was taking pictures of the easiest things and I could not focus. Then I changed eyes and realized that I was not seeing 100% out of my right eye.”
In an email interview with the Forest Preserve District, Miller elaborated.
“I was at Rock Run Preserve – Black Road Access and I was starting to panic,” she said. “I didn’t realize that I was actually losing sight. I walked to the pond and stood looking out. I was all alone.”
Miller said she asked for a sign to help her figure out what she should do.
“It was all so still and quiet and nothing happened. I turned to walk away and I saw a bench. On the bench was a plaque that said, 'In Memory of John Malesich Optometrist' and I knew I had my sign.”
On the Monday following her outing, she called a Joliet optometrist and wound up in surgery that same day for a 50% detachment of her retina and retinal tears. She was told that if she had ignored her symptoms, she would have been blind by the end of summer.
Miller now believes her love of nature photography may have saved her vision.
She said she loves taking pictures of deer and squirrels, “because they are the clowns of the nature world and you just never know what you will see them do.”
And she really enjoys being part of the Will County Wildlife Facebook group, which she joined three years ago.
“I love being part of the group because you or someone else will post something that everyone can relate to (i.e. a baby robin or a beautiful cardinal) or you may be able to share a photo of something not everyone even knows exists,” she said. “I had a cuckoo in my yard this spring and I can honestly say I had no idea what I was looking at. I have posted pictures before that I take for granted and I have had people say, ‘Thanks for posting, I am unable to get out to the forest preserves now and it is nice to see.’”
Miller said she has always been interested in photography, but she picked the hobby back up again after moving next door to Theodore Marsh in Crest Hill four years ago. Sometimes she walks on the preserve’s paths looking for subject matter.
“I will be the first to admit that going out and walking isn’t my idea of a good time, but once I started taking a camera with me, it changed me. … I continue to do it because it has become my therapy. I love seeing new things, making greeting cards from my photos and sharing my vision with friends and other nature lovers.”
Miller said she did not have the typical symptoms of retinal detachment, which includes flashing lights, so she feels lucky she trusted her instincts to get medical care. Her father had detached retinas twice, but Miller said at the age of 53, she thought she was too young to have it happen to her.
During her recovery from eye surgery, Miller said she had to keep her head down 50 minutes of every hour for 12 days.
After she recovered from eye surgery she asked her husband to drive her back to Rock Run Preserve – Black Road Access.
“I walked to the pond where I asked for the sign,” she said. “I stood there and thanked God for everything that I had been given, the surgery to correct the problem, my husband who did everything he could to make me comfortable and keep my spirits up, my mom who came over every day and the friends who reached out to me, including the ones I made from the Will County Wildlife site. I thanked (God) for letting me continue to see the beauty I see in the world.
“When I got home, I looked up the name on the bench. Dr. Malesich’s obituary said, ‘he had a love of cameras.’ It all made sense!”
Miller said she posted her story to the Will County Wildlife Facebook group to encourage others to act if they are in a similar situation.
“If you have symptoms, of any health issue, please do not ignore them!”
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