In conjunction with Giving Tuesday 2022, Cure Glaucoma Foundation brings you the story of Willie Barber and his insights as a glaucoma patient. Please consider giving a year-end gift to help CGF fight against glaucoma related vision loss.
Willie Barber’s Patient InSIGHT
Willie Barber, age 78, has witnessed the evolution of computing throughout his long career which began in 1966. As a young man, he attended a specialty school called Southwest Center for Advanced Studies (now known as University of Texas, Dallas) where he excelled because of his aptitude for advanced math. In February of 1969, Willie was drafted into the Army. In the military, Willie completed basic training at Fort Bliss and then served in the 4th Army Headquarters, Office of the Chief of Staff, in San Antonio, Texas. His final duty station was in Halliburton, Germany with the 7th Army Headquarters. He and his wife enjoyed seeing most of Europe while he was stationed overseas.
After his service during the Vietnam War, Willie worked for the Atlanta Richfield Corporation (Arcoa Oil and Gas) in the scientific geophysics program as a computer programmer. Of all the places he had been in his 42 years, his glaucoma was discovered at work. The company hosted a “health day” where employees could get some basic health screenings on site. He had an eye pressure test which showed unusually high pressures. Willie had not noticed any vision issues at that point, but it was recommended that he see an eye doctor. He saw a local eye doctor in 1986 and his diagnosis of glaucoma was confirmed.
At first, Willie didn’t know exactly what having glaucoma meant. He was concerned because some family members had been diagnosed with glaucoma and he knew there was a history of blindness that ran in their family. Initially, Willie was worried about the possibility of losing his eyesight.
In the beginning he was prescribed eye drops for treatment, but his pressures did not improve. His original eye doctor told Willie about the specialists at Glaucoma Associates of Texas (GAT) and recommended an appointment with one of the founders, Dr. Richard Starita. Willie was surprised to hear that he needed to see a specialist because he could still see very well at the time.
After some initial tests, the physicians at GAT worked to lower Willie’s eye pressures. He had a trabeculectomy in each eye, however the pressures remained too high. Over a
three-year period Willie had multiple other eye surgeries. During that time, and ever since, he has heeded the recommendations from his doctors and has attended all appointments.
Willie’s appointments have consistently been scheduled for three month intervals to make sure his glaucoma is well controlled and his vision remains stable.
Willie has been a patient at GAT for 36 years! Dr. Starita was instrumental in caring for Willie’s vision and they had very lengthy conversations about their lives and experiences. Dr. Starita was extremely thorough and did everything he could to protect Willie’s eyesight.
After a long and successful career Dr. Starita passed away in the Fall of 2009. His loss was felt deeply by his patients and colleagues in the ophthalmology community. Because of his incredible dedication, Dr. Starita’s memory remains alive with those who knew him.
Willie began seeing Dr. Tosin Smith for treatment. Dr. Smith continued to work on his case and eventually operated on his right eye to salvage the vision on that side. Willie still sees Dr. Smith today and is grateful for her skill and commitment.
Throughout all the years since his glaucoma diagnosis, Willie never had any restrictions. In his late 40s, he ran 3-4 miles per day to keep healthy. Willie would advise anyone diagnosed with glaucoma that they should not deviate from the doctor’s instructions. It’s too serious to ignore. You may not have a bad case now, but glaucoma can get worse quickly. If he had caught his glaucoma earlier (before his 40’s) he may have better vision today.
Recently, Willie came out of retirement to work for the US Government. He also enjoys attending church with his wife Mary, who is a Minister. Willie has served for decades as a church trustee, deacon and treasurer.
Willie has taught classes at the college level and was honored for being the first person to graduate as a Master of Science in Computer Science from the UNT School of Engineering in 1977. He has worked for the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security.
Willie and his wife, Mary, have been married for 53 years. They have four children, all college graduates, and ten grandchildren.