December 28, 2007—Birmingham, Ala.— Back in 1978, the original Kentucky Fried Chicken famed Colonel Harland Sanders traveled to the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital in Birmingham to treat a debilitating eye disease. The Colonel was so grateful for his recovery that he donated money to advancing eye treatment and in building a then state-of-the-art eye treatment hospital. Now, some 30 years later, KFC Colonel look-a-like, John Baxley of Anniston, Ala., has been successfully treated at the same hospital for a common and debilitating eye disease, Degenerative Vitreous Syndrome (DVS). The Colonel was featured in an eye surgery film that captured the 2007 Buckler Award at the annual meeting of the American Society of Retina Specialists this month.
The award winning video highlights the symptoms and successful treatments now available to cure DVS. Baxley, the current official KFC Goodwill Ambassador, has pledged his time and efforts in improving eye sight for others through the support of the Helen Keller Foundation. “It was like giving me my life back,” said Baxley.
“The Colonel” had extensive vitreous cloudiness in both eyes. “I could no longer safely drive or travel around the world for my many appearances,” he said. “I was going to have to give up my job representing Colonel Sanders’ image that is so beloved worldwide.” Baxley was elated with his return to normal vision. “It’s ironic that Colonel Harland Sanders himself had successful surgery at this same eye hospital. Now I’m going to help the Helen Keller Foundation in its effort to fund eye research and support the building of a new eye hospital for the University of Alabama in Birmingham.”
The Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education received the Buckler Award for the film, “Let’s Talk About Floaters”. Dr. Robert Morris, lead investigator for the Helen Keller Foundation, successfully treated Baxley which lead to his involvement in the film.
“We developed the term Degenerative Vitreous Syndrome, or DVS,” said Dr. Morris, “to describe extensive vitreous cloudiness, and we defined it as the spontaneous occurrence in the aging vitreous of opacities that substantially interfere with activities of daily living including reading, driving and other tasks we must regularly accomplish.”
Opacities in the lens of the eye are called cataracts. Cataract extraction is highly successful and approximately 3,000,000 such operations are performed annually in the United States alone. Removal of cloudy vitreous behind the lens has been controversial, since such patients can often still see well during moments of clarity, as the vitreous gel moves within the eye. Until now, there has also been no medical terminology to distinguish simple nuisance floaters from extensive vitreous opacities.
Using video footage of vitreous opacities in surgery, paired with patients’ descriptions of their debilitating effect on visual function, the Helen Keller researchers showed that the benefit of surgery justified its consideration in the context of improved retinal detachment prevention methods and advances in instrument miniaturization. Just as in cataract surgery, a no-stitch method is now often possible with small instruments.
The Buckler Award is represented by a gold-plated figurine statue holding an image of the retina of the eye, manufactured by R. S. Owens, which also manufacturers the Oscar Award for the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is the fourth Buckler award won by the Helen Keller research team in seven years.
For media interviews with John Baxley (“The Colonel” and 2006 Ad Week Magazine Icon of the Year) and Dr. Robert Morris (President of the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education), please contact White Sky PR’s Julie White at 205-222-2375 or Judy Ault at 205-613-6761.
ABOUT THE HELEN KELLER FOUNDATION FOR RESEARCH AND EDUCATION
The Helen Keller Foundation continues the work to which its namesake dedicated her life. The Foundation strives to prevent blindness and deafness by advancing research and education. The Foundation aspires to be a leader in integrating sight, speech and hearing research with the greater biomedical research community, creating and coordinating a peer-reviewed, worldwide network of investigators and institutions. For more information on the Helen Keller Foundation and a direct download of the short film, “Let’s Talk About Floaters,” go to www.helenkellerfoundation.org.