Ravens Williams fends off potentially dangerous eye disease
By DAVID GINSBURG
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Now that he can see clearly again, Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams is ready to resume his lucrative NFL career.
Williams has an eye disease called keratoconus, a degenerative disorder which warps the corneas and can potentially cause blindness if left untreated.
"It started to hinder my seeing the board when we went over plays, so I had to get it fixed," Williams said. "Once it starts messing with your craft, your career, you definitely have to put your attention on that before you do anything else."
The condition is rare, and there is no cure. But it can be controlled by surgery.
"I was scared," Williams acknowledged, "but also relieved that there was a treatment out there that could help me."
The procedure is called cross-linking, which limits the progression of the disease by strengthening the corneas. Williams had surgery on his more troublesome left eye before the 2017 season and had the right eye corrected earlier this month.
And now, the 340-pounder is eager to do his part to help the Ravens get back into the playoffs after a three-year absence.
"I can do everything I used to do," Williams declared. "Nothing is stopping me."
That's good news for the Ravens, who gave Williams a five-year, $52.5 million contract last year. Selected out of Missouri Southern State in the third round of the 2013 draft, the 29-year-old has been a vital cog in a Baltimore defense built first to stop the run.
Williams missed four games with a foot injury last year. The Ravens went 1-3 without him and 8-4 when he was in the lineup.
"He's the main piece for our defense," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said.
Rajesh K. Rajpal, M.D., founder of See Clearly Vision Group in Virginia and an expert on laser eye surgery, performed both operations on Williams' eyes.
"It almost always affects both eyes - 98 to 99 percent of the time - but usually one eye will be more severe," Rajpal said. "Now that both eyes are done, Brandon should be fine. But we will continue to monitor him to make sure it doesn't get worse."
Williams wears contact lenses to aid his vision, but removes them on game days.
"In his case, the lenses he's using allow him to function well enough in day-to-day activities," Rajpal said. "During the football season, he plays without the lens because he doesn't want to take a chance of getting something beneath the lens and damaging his eye. That's OK, because he's doing things up close and a lot of it is about feel."
Rajpal added: "A baseball pitcher or a batter, it would be really tough for them to function without the contact lenses if they have this condition."
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham has undergone cross-linking and wears contact lenses on the field.
When Williams first experienced blurry vision, he figured he needed LASIK surgery. But Rajpal says LASIK would actually further thin the cornea.
"When we're doing the testing for LASIK, we do corneal topography, which maps the corneal curvature," Rajpal said. "If keratoconus is significant enough, we offer the cross-linking."
If left untreated, the disease can be dangerous.
"Then we have to a corneal transplant," Rajpal said. "Fortunately, the vast majority don't completely lose their vision."
Williams nevertheless knows he avoided a potentially life-changing situation.
"I am thankful for having my sight," he said. Then, with a chuckle, he added, "I don't have to be blind, so that's a plus."
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Updated March 19, 2018