by Caleb Jones

According to the American Optometric Association, about 89 to 90 million Americans of all ages participate in sports. With many sports, players always assume the risk of some kind of injury, whether it be broken bones, torn ligaments, or damaged muscles. But what happens when a sports injury affects an athlete’s ability to see?

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) baseball player Leo Harris found out firsthand the importance of seeking immediate eye care after a sports-related eye injury.

A native of Biloxi, MS, Harris has been playing baseball since he was 5 years old. Prior to coming to UAB, he played at St. Martin High School in Ocean Springs, MS, where he was an honor student, and ranked the No. 3 shortstop and No. 21 overall player in the state of Mississippi by Perfect Game.

After high school, he went on to UAB to continue his education and athletic career. “The coaches and players at the time and the environment just felt like the right fit for me,” Harris said.

In the Fall of 2020, he came to UAB Eye Care, the clinical arm of the UAB School of Optometry, after being hit in the eye by a fast-moving baseball. When he arrived, his eye was swollen shut and about the same size as the baseball that hit him.

“With any injury there’s always some worry going on”, Harris said. “But for me, the thoughts right after that injury were just I hope this isn’t anything serious, or anything that keeps me out for long.”

Luckily, Harris was able receive immediate eye care through BlazerVision, a program created by Dr. Kathy Weise, director of the Pediatric Optometry Service at UAB Eye Care.

BlazerVision is partnership between UAB Athletics, UAB School of Optometry and Department of Ophthalmology that provides each student-athlete with comprehensive eye care, acute game-time care and state-of-the-art concussion baseline testing.

Through BlazerVision, Harris received swift attention at UAB Eye Care, where his condition dramatically improved under Weise’s care.

“With Leo’s injury, we were afraid we would find a detached retina, which could lead to blindness. However, we found that what he had was a bruised retina, which we see with some regularity after a hit to the eye. Thankfully, the bruise to the retina was benign, and healed much like any other bruise.”

Fortunately, Leo’s injury wasn’t as serious as it could have been. After treatment and few weeks of healing, he was able to return to practice and games fairly quick.

“The UAB Eye Care clinic was great,” Harris said. “Dr. Weise and everyone there that helped were amazing and did everything possible to get me back on the field quickly, from checkups to check on the healing process, to making sure my vision is where it needed to be to perform on the field.”

Harris is now junior at UAB, where he is studying Sports Communication. His injury did not change his love for baseball, and he is currently in season with UAB’s baseball team as a pitcher.

“My goals this season are of course to perform at a high level, but also to help my team be the best we can be and win a bunch of games,” Harris said. His goal after college is to continue to play baseball at the professional level.

The positive outcome of Harris’s ordeal is a lesson on the importance of seeking immediate attention from an eye care professional after an eye injury. Treatment options and effectiveness can vary greatly the longer an eye injury goes untreated.

“With any sports-related eye injury, there can be some catastrophic things that go wrong,” Weise said. “You can have a detached retina, which can cause blindness. You can have bones that break in your face right under your eyeball, which can cause double-vision— fractures to your facial bones are never good. The odds that injuries like this will happen are low, but if they do, it is so urgent to seek an eye care professional as soon as possible”

UAB Eye Care provides after-hours emergency care seven days a week. If you have an emergency after normal business hours (Monday - Friday, 8 A.M.  to 5 P.M.) or during a holiday, please call (205) 975-2020. You will hear instructions on how to contact the on-call doctor.