Exercise and activity are important parts of Richard Cui’s daily routine.
“Before the pandemic, I was in the gym almost every day,” says the 21-year-old. “It became the best part of my day.”
When Richard’s local gym closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he started working out at home using a resistance band, a large band made of synthetic rubber that can be used for strength training or rehabilitation. The bands provide resistance so muscles are working against its force to help build strength.
The band that Richard used was weighted to 50 pounds, almost 23 kilograms, which means using it was like working out with a 50-pound hand weight.
“After a couple of pulls, the band snapped out of nowhere,” says Richard. “One end hit my left eye and I couldn’t see anything for about 10 minutes. After awhile, my vision started coming back, but was a little blurry. At first, I thought it was just a little injury and wasn’t a big deal.”
Richard says the initial force on his eye caused some pain, but it eventually subsided.
“My eye just looked really bloodshot and red,” he says.
Later in the day, he noticed some changes to his vision.
“I would look left to right and started noticing darker spots, and that’s when I started thinking it might be more serious.”
Impact of retinal detachment
After seeing his optometrist who suspected Richard had suffered a detached retina, he was referred to Sunnybrook where it was determined there was more damage than first thought.
“Richard had an unusual retinal detachment. His retina was damaged in three separate areas,” explains Dr. Kenneth Eng, chief of ophthalmology and vision sciences in the Hurvitz Brain Science Program at Sunnybrook. “There was a large tear in his retina as well as extensive bleeding and bruising. The retina had detached in two places, and there was also a hole in his macula, which is the central part of the retina. He lost a lot of vision. Enough to be considered legally blind in that eye.”
The operation was extensive. Dr. Eng and his team used special surgical tools to do precision work on the fine membrane inside the eye, measuring only one micron thick (or 1/1000th of a millimetre). The surgery also involved laser treatment to help repair the retinal tears. The team also applied a special silicone solution to help the holes in Richard’s eye heal.
After a few weeks, the bleeding and bruising subsided. After another surgery to remove the silicone, the holes eventually closed and his retina remained attached with improvement in his vision.
Unique case study
The case was so unusual that a photo essay case study was recently published in The Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology.
Dr. Eng says within a couple of weeks of Richard’s eye injury, another patient experienced a similar injury after working out with a resistance band at home during COVID. Dr. Eng says while these exercise band injuries seem to be rare, there is the possibility for more cases as more people are exercising at home over the course of the pandemic. Dr. Eng says safety during physical activity is imperative.
“It’s important to exercise with caution and not be cavalier with any workout equipment that is used,” recommends Dr. Eng. “Accidents can happen that could impact vision or lead to serious complications.”
Recovering after retinal detachment
“The first time I had surgery I thought, ‘I won’t be able to see anymore,’” says Richard. “But Dr. Eng had put his whole effort to helping me and the best I could do was move forward and just recover one day at a time with the help of people around me. Throughout my recovery, my family has been there to support me.”
Dr. Eng says about 80 per cent of Richard’s vision has returned over a couple of months.
“Richard has come a long way,” adds Dr. Eng. “Time will tell how much of his vision will return, but he has made some positive progress after his ocular trauma.”
“Before this injury, I had 20/20 vision and I saw everything crystal clear,” says Richard. “But now, if I read with my left eye, I am not able to read small-font books, so I rely on my right eye. I might not get all my vision back, but I just have to get used to it and I am adapting.”
“While exercise is important to maintaining mental health and physical conditioning during the pandemic, care and attention is needed whenever new activities or equipment are being used. Individuals should familiarize themselves with the use and warnings of all equipment being used. Some equipment, like exercise bands, can store significant amounts of energy,” emphasizes Dr. Eng, “so ensuring that they are installed properly and securely is of the utmost importance to help avoid serious accidents.”
In the meantime, Richard says he is remaining positive and when using the bands in the future, he plans to wear protective glasses. “It may look strange to be wearing safety glasses, but I’m not taking any chances. This injury won’t prevent me from going to the gym in the future. I’m going to be more careful and am looking forward to going back when it is safe to do so.”