Paterson undergoes glaucoma procedure

May 20, 2008 6:11:21 PM PDT
Gov. David Paterson underwent an emergency procedure for glaucoma Tuesday, hours after admitting himself to a hospital with a severe headache. Paterson, who is legally blind, was diagnosed with acute glaucoma in his left eye and underwent an iridotomy, a routine, outpatient laser procedure to relieve pressure on that eye, his office said in a statement.

Paterson left The Mount Sinai Medical Center Tuesday afternoon but will have another procedure in a few days to prevent glaucoma from appearing in his right eye, said Dr. John Danias, an ophthalmologist to treated the governor.

"He should be able to resume his normal activities tomorrow," Danias said. "He was in very good condition after the laser, but you understand he had a hard night. " Paterson's office said the procedure would not have any long-term impact on the governor's overall health.

Paterson remained conscious throughout the procedure, but his office said that "in an abundance of caution, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker were advised of this pursuant to standard protocol."

Hours earlier, Paterson had admitted himself to Mount Sinai complaining of what his office called "migraine-like symptoms."

Dr. Gregory Harmon, a Manhattan ophthalmologist and chairman of The Glaucoma Foundation, said Paterson's condition - acute angle closure glaucoma - is an emergency situation in which the passageway that normally allows fluids to drain freely from the eye suddenly becomes completely blocked. The condition is extremely painful and can lead to headaches and even vomiting, he said.

The iridotomy creates a microscopic hole in the iris that lets the fluid drain. The procedure is brief, relatively risk-free, and usually clears up the problem right away.

Paterson lost sight in his left eye and much of the sight in his right eye after an infection as an infant. He can see shapes and usually recognizes people as they approach, but he can read for just a few minutes at a time with the text held close to his face.

Dr. Andrew Prince, a Manhattan-based glaucoma specialist who hasn't treated the governor, said that if Paterson has no sight in the eye already then the primary concern is comfort.

Danias, who spoke to reporters at Mount Sinai, said Paterson's glaucoma was unrelated to his blindness.

The governor went home to rest late in the afternoon, spokesman Errol Cockfield said.

The emergency procedure Tuesday capped two tumultuous months in office - both personal and professional - for Paterson, who turned 54 on Tuesday.

The Democrat was sworn in on March 17, days after former Gov.

Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal. He had served as Spitzer's lieutenant governor for 14 months.

A day after being sworn in, Paterson revealed that both he and his wife had had affairs during their marriage but had resolved to work out their problems.

Within two weeks of his swearing-in, the state budget was due.

Facing a looming $5 billion deficit, Paterson immediately called for hundreds of millions of dollars in spending cuts.

Since then he has replaced several Spitzer appointees; ordered a 3.5 percent cut in spending by state agencies; taken on powerful labor unions; and gotten the state attorney general to investigate claims by some lawmakers that the state police operated a rogue unit.

When he succeeded Spitzer, New York was left without a second-in-command; voters won't pick a new lieutenant governor until the next gubernatorial election in 2010.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican, is next in the line of succession and would be acting governor if Paterson were out of state, or became incapacitated or died.

Paterson's health has been a concern in recent years, with at least two other hospitalizations. However, he also is known as a fiercely competitive basketball player and he ran in the New York City Marathon.

In April 2006, when he was state Senate minority leader, Paterson was admitted to a hospital with chest pain and underwent a CT scan, cardiovascular stress test and echocardiogram. The tests came back normal and he was released after about 12 hours.

At the time, a Paterson spokesman said he had no history of heart trouble.

Last July, Paterson fainted on an airplane on his way to Buffalo. He was briefly hospitalized and the following day had an angiogram, which was normal. Doctors said they found no evidence of heart disease.

Paterson, who lives in the governor's mansion but has an apartment in Harlem, was to receive an award at Tuesday's commencement at Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor's degree.

His office later canceled the appearance, and his wife, Michelle, came to Mount Sinai to stay with him.