The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

September 1, 2013

Big Anniversary

N. Kingsville eye doctor proof MS is no barrier to a successful practice

Staff Writer

NORTH KINGSVILLE — A debilitating illness is no match for a determined North Kingsville eye doctor whose practice recently celebrated a milestone.

Local optometrist Dr. Ronald Wheeler, 55, recently notched 30 years in the eye care business — almost as long as he has been afflicted with Multiple Sclerosis.

“I was bound and determined not to let MS stop me,” he said.

Wheeler works from the same Route 193 address he occupied soon after graduating from The Ohio State University. “I was 24 years old and scared to death,” he said.

Less than a year later, Wheeler learned he had MS.

“At first, I tried to hide it from my patients,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be a hindrance. But I’m proud to say I haven’t missed one day of work because of my MS.”

In fact, work has proven therapeutic, Wheeler said.

“This is what keeps me going,” he said. “(The practice) stimulates my mind.”

Brenda Kraus, who has worked as optician in Wheeler’s office for more than 26 years, said she greatly admires her long-time friend’s tenacity.

“It’s inspiring, really,” she said. “He views MS more as a nuisance than a hindrance.”

Wheeler’s condition is not immediately noticeable to patients, Kraus said. “They’re concerned, thinking maybe he has hurt his hip,” she said  

Born and raised in Ashtabula County, Wheeler left high school after his junior year to attend Harding University in Arkansas. From there he transferred to OSU.

“I had no idea at first to study optometry,” he said. “I only knew I wanted to be in a health field. My brother (Larry) suggested optometry.”

Ophthalmology wasn’t an option, Wheeler said. “I didn’t want to get into the surgery end (of the field).”

Much has changed in the profession since Wheeler moved into a 1,000-square foot office — including the office itself. In 1990, Wheeler expanded into an adjoining pharmacy to gain more elbow room.

The rest of the advances come in technology and procedure. When Wheeler first began his practice, much of what could and couldn’t do for patients were dictated by law. For example, if a patient came to Wheeler with a particle in her eye, he was forbidden from removing it.

“(In those days) I would have had to send her to a hospital emergency room,” he said. “It was so frustrating.”

Laws have since changed, Wheeler said.

Technology has also allowed more complete diagnosis of ailments, helping doctors stabilize conditions once considered irreversible. Macular degeneration is one example, Wheeler said.

Doctors are finding an increasing number of patients suffering from macular degeneration, Wheeler said.

“I don’t know if there are more cases or whether it’s being detected more readily,” he said. “We can’t reverse it, but we can stop it.”

Cataracts is another condition where medical advances have worked wonders. Surgery now corrects the ailment, and patients marvel at how uncomplicated the procedure can be, Wheeler said.

Today, Wheeler oversees a staff that includes three full-time and two part-time employees.

“It’s a real source of satisfaction to provide people jobs,” he said. “The staff here is fabulous. They’re not just competent professionals — they’re my friends.”

A newcomer to the practice is Todd Wheeler, the doctor’s 24-year-old son who is assisting in the office. “It’s great to have him here,” Wheeler said.

Father and son may be a workplace combo for the foreseeable future. Wheeler says he has no immediate plans to retire.

“I’m going to go as long as I can,” he said.

In the meantime, Wheeler is savoring his big anniversary.

“If anybody had told me (after receiving his diagnosis) that I would have worked 30 years, I’d have said ‘no way,’” he said. “I’m very blessed and very fortunate.”