When Merced amateur trapshooter Kenneth Lobo noticed his targets were getting fuzzy, he decided to consult an eye doctor.
Seven years and three surgeries later, Lobo, 62, has returned to his sport — and will compete in the top national tournament for the first time — with nearly perfect vision.
Dr. David Kaye, a surgeon at Natural Vision in Madera, has been with Lobo every step of the way and never let him lose hope, Lobo said.
Lobo originally needed surgery to remove cataracts that had formed in his right eye, he said.
“They put in a new lens, and I could see, but then the targets started getting blurry again,” Lobo said.
Dr. Kaye discovered a wrinkle in Lobo’s cornea and sent him to doctors throughout California for second opinions before surgically rotating it, Lobo said.
After recovering from the second surgery, Lobo still had blurry vision in his right eye.
Eager to return to his sport, Lobo had a special gun stock crafted for him that would allow him to shoot right-handed but use his left eye in the sights — a custom masterpiece that cost him about $800, he said.
In 2009, Lobo had a complete cornea transplant — his third surgery. Now, with the help of a special contact lens he can see perfectly.
“Dr. Kaye was relentless to figure out a solution,” Lobo said. “There are eye doctors out there that just want to operate, but don’t take the time to figure out what’s really wrong. Dr. Kaye sent me to other doctors to be sure the surgery he did was going to be the right one.”
Kaye, who performs between two and six cataract surgeries and cornea transplants each month, said corneal tissue must be transferred from deceased donors to live patients within 10 days.
The corneal tissue arrives in a bottle via UPS and the surgeon performs the transplant and uses medication to encourage the corneal cells to grow with the patient’s eye and prevent rejection, Kaye said.
Dr. Kaye hopes to eliminate Lobo’s dependence on the contact lens using a new niacin treatment that stiffens the eye, a procedure called corneal collagen cross-linking.
“It’s hard for a physician to carry the emotional burden of the patient,” Kaye said. “He used to be in tears, it was very hard for me.”
Patients often want instantaneous results, but the healing of the eye takes some time, Kaye explained.
“Dr. Kaye kept saying to him, ‘I will get you there’ but Ken was a basket case,” said Lobo’s wife, Cathy. But they finally got there.
Lobo, a retired property manager, has been a trapshooter for more than a decade, but has never shot as well as he does now, he said.
In trapshooting, a form of clay target shooting, a box called a trap house releases 100 round clay targets at five different positions while shooters try to hit them from at least 16 yards away.
“From 16 yards it’s called ‘singles,’” Lobo explained. “And ‘handicap’ means the better you get, the further they push you back, all the way out to 27 yards.”
Shooting 100 percent of the targets from 16 yards away is a big accomplishment for a trapshooter, Lobo said.
“In all the 11 years I’ve been trapshooting, I never shot 100 straight in singles,” he said. “Now after (my cornea transplant) I have shot three 100s in singles.”
Four months after the cornea transplant, Lobo went from shooting at a 23-yard handicap to 27 yards — the furthest distance in the sport.
Lobo is now ranked 26 out of thousands of trapshooters in California.
In August he will compete in the Grand National tournament in Sparta, Illinois — what he calls the Super Bowl of trapshooting — sponsored by the Amateur Trapshooting Association.
“I owe my eye to Dr. Kaye,” he said. “Not too many doctors would have gone the extra step to make it right.”
The Madera Tribune