Will putting leeches on his face help this blind man see? – USA TODAY

By daniellenierenberg

Most nights, Marcia Dunlap attaches seven or eight leeches around her husband John’s eyes as part of an effort to restore some of his vision. Tom Bailey/The Commercial Appeal

With the help of his wife Marcia, John Dunlap receives his nightly leech treatment at his home in East Memphis. Marcia places several leeches on his face in an effort to increase pressure in his left eye. In conjunction with stem cell treatment, the Dunlaps hope that one day John may be a viable candidate for a procedure that could return some of his vision.(Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

At home most evenings, Memphis, Tennessee, attorney John Dunlap, 80, unbuttons and removes his white dress shirt and counting his steps and remembering which way to turn carefullywalks with a tall white canefrom the living room to the dining table, where his wife Marcia has a plastic container of leeches.

Twenty-six months ago,the couple’s schizophrenic sonAndrewattacked them in theirhome. The injuries blinded Dunlap. He’s in total darkness.

After drapinga large, peach-colored towel around John’s neck, Marcia reaches into the water for the skinniest leeches. Those are the hungriest and most likely to latchonto John’s face.

One at a time, she gently presses four leeches to the skin around John’s left eye and three around the right. She waits patiently wait for eachto bite and stay connected to John’s skin.

“You can feel a bite,” he says. “A little, stinging bite… And then after awhile you don’t feel anything.”

The Dunlaps have carried out this unusualroutine60 or so times since December. It’s a type of therapy prescribed by a Los Angeles doctor who offers experimental stem cell therapy designed to regenerate tissue.

“In the beginning he made it very clear he’s not anophthalmologist and not an eye surgeon but he had had some success with stem cells in treating blindness. It’s experimental,” Dunlap said.

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The doctor prescribed the leech therapy as a preliminary step because, Dunlap said, the leech enzymesenhance the blood supply to the eye and nourishthe eye tissue.

The left eye had atrophied, or withered. The idea wasto restore health to the eyebefore the stem cell treatment. There is no right eye, but the hope is that the leech enzymes will help revive that optic nerve in case a transplant is ever possible.

Since the leech therapy,the pressure in the right eye has improved significantly, Dunlapsaid, referring to follow-upexams. The retina, which had folded into an ice-cream cone shape after the trauma, has begun returning to its normal shape, he said.

Even though he still cannot see out of the left eye and the optic nerve remains severed from the retina, Dunlap said, “I now have a live eye.”

The Dunlaps decline to identify the California doctor, describing him as a”humble” person whodoes not seek the publicity.

With the help of his wife Marcia, John Dunlap receives his nightly leech treatment at his home in East Memphis. Marcia places several leeches on his face in an effort to increase pressure in his left eye. In conjunction with stem cell treatment, the Dunlaps hope that one day John may be a viable candidate for a procedure that could return some of his vision.(Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

Andrew, the Dunlaps’ mentally ill son, is charged with attempted murder and domestic assault, and remains in jail awaiting trial. Thecouplehave told authorities that they mainly want Andrew to receive mental health treatment.

The Dunlapshave experienced tragedy long before the 2015 assault.

Their son Jeff, one of four children, was a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient who died of cancer at age 10, in September 1974.

Dunlap recalls a return car tripfrom Knoxville, where he and Marcia had been visiting grandchildren shortly after he was released from rehab.

“As we were driving back I started thinking of all the things I won’t get to do again. In my mind, I was going down the list,” he said.

It would be a long list, including some leisure activities he loves. An avid Cubs fan, heenjoyed attending spring training games in Arizona. A passionate golfer, he enjoyedwatching how the ball flew when he struck it well.

But Dunlap stopped himself from completing the list of losses, telling himself, ” ‘You don’t want to dwell on that’. . . It’s as if the Lord sent me a message that hit me across my forehead, saying, ‘John, get over it. It could be a whole lot worse.’

“Anytime I want to start thinking about the things I’m missing or not doing what I used to do, I think ‘Get over it. Move on’.”

Sudden blindness is such a change in lifestyle. “I guess some people may feel the world has ended for them, but it hasn’t,” he said.

Marcia Dunlap gets special leeches for her husband John’s nightly treatment from the laundry room where she keeps it out of sight. Marcia places several leeches on his face in an effort to increase pressure in his left eye. In conjunction with stem cell treatment, the Dunlaps hope that one day John may be a viable candidate for a procedure that could return some of his vision.(Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

The stem cell and leech therapy is expensive and not covered by health insurance. Some have expressed their skepticism about the legitimacy of the experimental treatments.

“You have some people who are concerned for you, that your approach is not going to be effective,” Dunlap said.

“Yet, several folks up herehave said, ‘John, I’d take a shot at it. It is expensive but you’re the one with the white cane and the one who is blind and has to live with it. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”’

While some might be concerned about the unusual treatments, many others are inspired by the Dunlaps,saidBlanche Tosh, a fellow church member and friend since high school.

“I have told them so many times, ‘You just can’t begin to know the lives you have affected,” Tosh said.

“I know so many people who look at the way they are dealing with multiple things. How could anybody endure that and just go on and be pleasant and make it from day to day with the consistent attitude that the world sees.

“You are not going to find many people whoever see one of them without a smile,” Tosh said.

She was inspired to start a gofundme account (gofundme.com/johndunlapvision) to help coverthe Dunlaps’ expenses. As of midweek, $8,795 of the $100,000 goal had been raised.

Memphis lawyer John Dunlap and his wife Marcia continue to search for some medical procedure to restore at least partial vision after John was blinded a few years ago when their mentally ill son attacked him. (Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

Since December, Dunlap has undergone two-and-a-half rounds of leech therapy and two series ofstem cell treatments. The couple traveled to California in June for the most recent stem cell procedures, and returned home with stem-cell eye drops and injections.

Nowthey are in the middle of the leech therapy they resumed this summer.

John has a follow-up exam next week, when he will learn if there’s been continued progress from the stem cell and leech therapies.

The California doctor “indicated it would take two to three months to see if we were getting any results from stem cell therapy out there,” Dunlap said. That time could come sometime this month or in September.

If the stem cell therapy has not worked by then, he said,”We’ll just have to see what any third plan looks like, and the cost involved.”

Late in life, Dunlap has been forced to learn to type, work a computer, navigate with a cane, count the steps and memorize the turns from one spot to another, communicate with Siri, and smile as blood-sucking leeches dangle from his cheeks.

Asked about his sources of inner-strength, he responded, “I don’t know I’d call it inner-strength.

“I can tell you I certainly believe in the Lord. We pray daily. I appreciate the prayers of others. I think it certainly is a faithissue.”

He also credits his late mother, Cora, a single parentwho managed a grocery. “She was a very optimistic, loving person,” he recalled.

“And I’ve had Marcia’s support. Marcia wasn’t going to let me give up, just sit down and do nothing.”

The Dunlaps are starting to consider resuming their annual trips to Cubs spring training in Arizona. Maybe next spring.

“You may have your vision by then,” Marcia told John.

“I might,” he responded.”We’ll see.”

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Will putting leeches on his face help this blind man see? – USA TODAY

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