Shortly before her 40th birthday, Fox News anchor Shannon Bream woke up in the middle of the night because she felt like someone was stabbing her eyes.
“I was in searing pain,” she remembers. The pain occurred anytime she slept longer than an hour or two. “I couldn’t get any rest,” she says, adding that she would set alarms to wake her so she could put in eye drops.
Although Bream carried her eye drops with her everywhere. The extreme eye discomfort often triggered double vision and migraines.
After struggling for almost two years, the doctor she was seeing did not have any answers. “He told me he thought I was being too emotional,” she says.
It was not what she wanted to hear. “That put me into a tailspin — I’m desperate for any lifeline any diagnosis, any treatment to help me through this nightmare, and my doctor was questioning my sanity. That was really hurtful,” she says. “I felt like no one was going to help me.”
Bream read medical journals and scoured the internet, visiting chat rooms and reading message boards to see if other people out there shared her symptoms.
“There were people talking about how the only way out was to take their own life. And that didn’t seem crazy or unreasonable to me at all. I was two years into it. I was in my early 40s, and I said, ‘No way I could life another 40 years like that. If all of my waking hours are in pain, what is the point of going on?’”
She started thinking about how nice it would be to go to sleep and not wake up.
She finally confided in her husband Sheldon Bream, opening up about her dark thoughts. “I just can’t go on,” she told him.
“He said, ‘We are going to start over. I don’t care if we have to go around the whole world and we have to spend every dime we have in the bank. This is our priority, and we’re going to get through this together,’ ” she remembers.
After researching top-rated eye doctors in Washington, D.C., Bream called cornea specialist Dr. Thomas Clinch, who happened to have a cancellation the next day. He diagnosed her with chronic erosion syndrome exacerbated by corneal map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy.
“It’s a chronic condition, but it’s treatable,” says Clinch, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Opthalmology. “It’s a relatively common condition,” he says, adding that about 2 percent of the population has it.
Bream was thrilled to have a diagnosis, but devastated to learn that there is no cure.
“I got into my car and was sobbing,” she says. “I wanted to crash my car into something.”
But at her follow-up appointment, she and Clinch focused on treatment strategies.
The goal, says Clinch, is to strengthen the adhesion between the skin cells and the cornea.
“We just started tackling the list one by one. Within a few weeks, I actually slept through the night for the first time in almost two years,” Bream says. Seven pain-free hours of rest felt miraculous to her.
Some of the strategies Bream tried included drops, saline solutions and ointments. She started taking fish oil. She experimented with tear duct plugs. Eventually, in fall 2017, as she prepared to launch her show Fox News at Night, Dr. Clinch performed a laser surgery called photo therapeutic keratectomy, which corrected Bream’s vision so she no longer needed to wear contacts, while also improving her severe dry eye.
“It really gave me my life back,” she says. “My eyes are never going to be perfect. But they’re 95 percent better. I do occasionally have a little pain here and there overnight. It’s nothing, nothing like the pain I had before. It actually will subside in five minutes and I go back to sleep. It’s not hours and hours and double vision and triggering migraines. It’s very minor and very infrequent,” she says.
Now she’s able to travel, work long hours chasing political candidates around the country as Fox News’ chief legal correspondent, run, read books and play with her yellow lab, Biscuit. She sleeps with an eye mask and a humidifier, and massages her eyes and uses warm compresses in the morning.
“I couldn’t be more grateful now. When I get out of bed in the morning, I literally say a prayer. The first thing I do is thank God that I got through the night.”
She dedicated a chapter to her dry eye struggle in her new book Finding the Bright Side.
“People watch TV, and think your life perfect. I wanted to be honest and say, ‘I’ve been through tough places and you can make it through too.’”
For more on about Shannon Bream’s health struggle, pick up this week’s issue, on stands Friday, Nov. 15!
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