Advances in stem cell therapy for retinas

My hopes are beginning to come true! There is already progress being made in healing retinal damage using stem cells. I heard this story yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered: “Study Finds Human Stem Cells May Help To Treat Patients.” The story is everywhere. Here are links to a New York Times article, “Study Backs Use of Stem Cells in Retinas,” and one on WebMD, “Stem Cell Therapy Shows Long-Term Effectiveness.” Hurray! I know possible help for me is still years down the road, but I am still celebrating this news.

Two years later

September 21, 2014, marked two years of recovery from my accident. Looking back at my last major update, about a year ago, I see that, although the healing process continues, not a lot is changing on the surface. My appearance has improved a little more since my February surgery. The left eye now looks normal enough for people to feel comfortable asking why it’s so red—which the rim of the lower lid always is, to varying degrees. I don’t know if that will ever quite go away. My eye is still easily irritated, which can increase the redness. And it still waters a lot, as the cornea continues to dry out and overproduce tears. The eye still hurts at random moments, especially later in the day, sometimes sharply, sometimes deeply. The nerves in my cheek have almost fully regenerated. My eye crinkles almost normally when I smile.

The central vision in my left eye is still gone, though I hold out hope for future medical developments that may reverse the damage (come on, stem cells!). In the meantime, I use my peripheral vision as much as I can to keep my optic nerve active: I sometimes walk around with my right eye shut just for the practice. I still forget sometimes why I can’t see clearly, especially when I first wake up. I have recently been experiencing a fresh bout of grief about the impairment of my sight. I still often bump into things on my left and lose my balance easily. I continue to have trouble concentrating and thinking clearly. I am still trying to figure out how to see as well as I can while I work; my vision varies a lot, and magnifiers and lights only help so far.

I have not entirely recovered my turning skills. I got tendonitis in my right elbow (my dominant arm) in the spring and wasn’t able to work for several months. Add this to the many gaps in work caused by my surgeries and I guess my rustiness is understandable, if frustrating. It has been hard this time to get back into a creative flow, but I am working to hold a steady course through the latest challenges by remembering every day what I haven’t lost (family and friends, my sense of humor, my curiosity, a damn good life) and what I’ve gained (more love, gratitude, a greater sense of connectedness to everything).

BBBS Southwest Flair A-Fair

Southwest Flair A-Fair 2014.

The last weekend of this month, October 24, 25, and 26 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson will host its Southwest Flair A-Fair at Plaza Palomino. This fine-art-and-craft fair, which benefits BBBS, will feature the work of more than 150 artisans—including me. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, with free parking nearby and free shuttle service to and from the fair—just look for the signs. Plaza Palomino is located in Tucson at the southeast corner of Swan and Fort Lowell Roads. I will be in Booth 86, in the east parking lot, near La Placita Cafe.

Add some creativity to your holidays while you help improve some children’s lives!

POP Excellence Award

I am proud to say that I received a POP Excellence Award at the 2014 symposium of the American Association of Woodturners, held in Phoenix in June. I was one of five recipients chosen for the award by the Professional Outreach Program. Especially exciting to me is that, whereas the other awards were given for single pieces, mine was awarded for the body of work I had on exhibit: six pieces, shown below.

The award-winning works are highlighted in the October issue of American Woodturner, inside the front cover.

At the symposium I also presented “Turn a Blind Eye,” a program about how to turn more safely, and spoke on “How to Make a Great Demonstration,” a panel with David Ellsworth and Andi Wolfe.

Work by Lynne Yamaguchi awarded a 2014 POP Excellence Award. Photo by Andi Wolfe.

Back row, from left: “Ashes to Ashes,” bleached and sandblasted ash; “Crackalicious,” eucalyptus; “Filled to the Brim,” spalted curly maple. Front row, from left: “It Comes in Waves,” bubinga; walnut bowl; “His,” walnut. Photo by Andi Wolfe, copyright 2014.

My tale of survival


The June issue of American Woodturner featured “Safety Matters: From the Eye of a Survivor,” an article I wrote describing my accident and discussing some of what I learned afterward about protecting myself. Please feel free to share it with any woodturners you know; I am hoping that it will save others from injury. It was accompanied by this exercise for determining your own risk at the lathe, along with a table comparing risk values.

DesertLeaf article

DesertLeaf, January 2014 cover.

DesertLeaf, January 2014.

The DesertLeaf has just published a 3-page article about me in the current (January 2014) issue. You can read the issue online here; the article, “Lynne Yamaguchi: Flawed Beauty,” by Lorraine A. DarConte, starts on page 56 (it’s the column called “L’Art Pour L’Art”). The DesertLeaf is a monthly publication for the Catalina Foothills area of Tucson.

The saga continues

It is looking like another surgery will be in order. My lower eyelid, which was reconstructed with cartilage and skin from my ear, is not doing what it is supposed to. It is pulling away from my eye instead of hugging it. As a result, the inner lid, the tender tissue that should rest against my eye, is being exposed and, because of the exposure, is becoming like skin. The pulling away also means that my eyelids are once again not closing fully; I have to squeeze my eye tight to fully close the lids.

The challenge of surgery will be to tighten the lower lid without interfering with the drainage tube from my eye.

I have been using an ointment for the last few weeks to help remedy the condition. Since the ointment blurs my vision, I have not been wearing my contact, so I am back to being pretty much half blind. I am still turning though. I will find out more in a couple of weeks about the prognosis and the possibilities.

Thirteen months later

Some 13 months after my accident, I am doing well. I look almost normal, if you don’t look too closely. My upper eyelid works and has an epicanthic fold to match my right eye. My lower lid doesn’t move, and the rim is usually quite red, but it does cover the lower part of my eye, and the upper lid meets it when I blink. The nerves in my face have come back a lot and continue to revive, slowly. My left cheek still tends to be somewhat swollen. I either overproduce tears or they do not drain from my eye properly, so I have to wipe my eye frequently.

As for my vision, I’m still largely impaired. My central vision is still gone. My peripheral vision is much sharper, as I now wear a contact lens (in lieu of a lens implant) in combination with glasses. I know that I am seeing something with my left eye, that my brain is incorporating some input from it, because I can now tell when the contact lens is out (I have a problem with it sometimes falling out): I feel more blind without it and less blind with it. I would say that, functionally speaking, the correction may add from 5% to as much as 25% to my overall vision, depending on the level of light. I still run into things a lot on my left side. Without central vision, I am not sensitive to light, but without a functioning iris, I need to protect against overexposing my retina, so I am careful to wear sunglasses outside. (You would think that, living in Arizona, I would already have made that a habit, but I never felt the need before.) I have been able to stop all medication for my eye. There had been concern that I would develop glaucoma, but I seem to be maintaining normal pressure in my eye without medication.

Emotionally, I’m good. I experienced a period of grief this summer, after I realized that the doctors have done about as much as they can for me. Until then, I had been so focused on recovering that I hadn’t stopped to consider what I had lost. I had to stop and retreat for a spell. Having grieved, I am still grateful. I have recovered much better than any of my doctors ever expected, and I learned that I have far more support in my life than I ever realized. I say it again: I am a lucky, lucky woman.

And my creative juices are flowing again. When I first resumed turning back in January, it felt like I had never stopped, but around March I mostly quit turning again, because of pain in my eye. When I resumed again in September, this time I felt like I had lost my skill. I felt clumsy and blind and incompetent. I’m getting back up to speed now. Most important, the ideas and the love of the work are flowing again; for a while, I was so focused on feeling ineffective that I let the flow nearly stop. I knew the flow was back when I started dreaming about making art again.