Eye Institute Patient Story: Rich Koslowski

Eye Institute Patient Rich KoslowskiRich Koslowski relies on his eyes to make a living. The writer, artist and self-proclaimed genius has written and illustrated a number of books and graphic novels, including Three Fingers and The 3 Geeks series; he’s also worked with renowned comic book publishers Marvel and Archie comics. So when a basketball injury severely damaged his eyesight, Koslowski was worried about more than his eye — he was worried about his career.

At the time, Koslowski, a Menomonee Falls native, was working on a graphic novel, The King!, an offbeat tale about an Elvis impersonator. A game of recreation basketball was meant to be a break from work-related stress. Instead, it almost ended his career

“I went up for a rebound,” Koslowski said, recalling the November 2003 incident. “I came down and was starting to turn when a guy came up from behind me to swat the ball. His finger went right up into my eye socket and his fingernail tore the muscle that controls movement in my left eye. Damaged it beyond repair, apparently.”

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But Koslowski didn’t know that at the time. All he knew was that he was in severe pain. “I thought a stray bullet came through a window,” he said. “The pain was so intense, worse than anything I’d ever felt before. I was afraid to look in my hand, because I thought my eye was just going to be jelly in my hand.”

When an ice pack did little to ease the pain — and nothing to ease the double vision that was making Koslowski nauseated — his buddies took him to a local Emergency Room.

The ER staff, accustomed to seeing basketball eye injuries, reassured him that his eye would soon heal. After all, a CT scan had revealed an undamaged eye socket; aside from some scratches to the cornea, his eye looked like it would heal naturally.

The next day, however, it was worse. The eye was bright red and the double vision had intensified overnight. Koslowski followed up with an optometrist. And then an ophthalmologist. And then another. “Everyone kept saying, ‘It’s going to clear up on its own; just give it a couple weeks,’” Koslowski said. “Well, it never got any better.”

Koslowski struggled to maintain some semblance of a normal life, but it was impossible. “I was dizzy and nauseated constantly, so I was sleeping like sixteen hours a day,” Koslowski said. “I couldn’t work; I would just lie on the couch.”

Finally, Koslowski was referred to the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Eye Institute. Mark Ruttum, MD, a Medical College of Wisconsin ophthalmologist, was the first to realize the extent of Koslowski’s injury.

“He told me that the muscle in the bad eye was irreparably damaged, but that there was an operation he could try on the good eye. The plan was to move the muscle in the good eye, to equal it out,” said Koslowski, who admitted that he was “terrified” by the idea of someone cutting around his good eye.

Koslowski had time to think. Dr. Ruttum wanted the left eye to heal as much as possible before attempting to align the eyes, so Koslowski muddled through daily life as best he could.

“My job is constant eye-hand coordination,” Koslowski said. “I used an eye patch to decrease the double vision, but then my depth perception was off. I’d think my brush was on the paper, but there’d be no ink. I’d have to push my brush a little farther before I actually made contact. It was very, very difficult.”

Naturally, Koslowski worried about his future, both as an artist and as a father. His daughter, Stella, was only a year-and-a-half old at the time of the accident. “I wondered if I’d ever be able to play soccer with her or coach her Little League team. Your eyes are so critical for everything,” Koslowski said.

With few options left, he consented to surgery. Six months after his injury, Dr. Ruttum performed Koslowski’s surgery at The Eye Institute. Eight weeks later, his eyes were in sync and he was able to return to work on The King!

When The King! was finally published in 2005, Koslowski publicly thanked the specialists at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin in the introduction of his book.

“I give Froedtert & the Medical College all the credit in the world, not only for saving my eyesight, but also my career and my mental stability,” Koslowsi said. He also realizes how incredibly fortunate he is to have the Eye Institute so close to home.

“When I was researching my injury, I contacted some other hospitals, and everyone kept telling me that Froedtert is the place to go,” Koslowski said. “How lucky am I that Froedtert is just down the road!”

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