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Tony Balik: Sight restored after 48 years of blindness

March 5, 2009
By MIKE DONAHEY, Central Iowa Press


Editor's Note: Tony Balik worked for the Iowa Department of Human Services for 37 years. Tama County was an arrea he worked in.

"I can see more everyday."

Article Photos

Tony Balik
Sight restored after 48 years

That is what Tony Balik, former Marshalltown resident and community volunteer, said in a recent interview with Central Iowa Press. After 48 years of blindness, his sight has been partially restored due to the skill of three doctors.

"I can see the pendulum swinging back and forth on a grandfather clock now," he said. "I can also see details in linoleum flooring, ceramic tile and glass that I could never see before. "

The ability to see is a gift some people might take for granted. But not Balik.

While the pendulum and other details could not be seen while he was blind, Balik said matter-of-factly that he believed his vision would some day be restored. He placed that faith in knowledge. Over the years, he learned and studied the medical advances made for people like him who had lost their eyesight.

Balik's world was dramatically changed in June of 1961 on a farm near Castalia in northeast Iowa.

An anhydrous tank exploded and scared his eyes, specifically one cornea. The then 17-year old Spillville native was immediately taken to the nearby Postville hospital before being transferred to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Balik explained that his job required him to work with the dangerous chemical and related equipment in applying it to farm fields. He recovered, earned a college degree and began a 37-year career with the Iowa Department of Human Services. A number of those years were spent with the DHS office in Marshalltown.

But Balik was not content just to be employed. He wanted to be involved in making Marshalltown a better place to live.

"I didn't let grass grow under my feet while I was there (in Marshalltown)," he said. "I served on many boards."

He was especially active with the Salvation Army and the local Matins Kiwanis club. He later served as its president in 1998.

He and his wife Jane moved to Cedar Rapids several years ago to be closer to kids and grandchildren who are in the area. It was Jane who has served as Balik's eyes and driver for many years. He said Jane was employed to read DHS documents to him and drive him to work-related appointments in Hardin, Marshall and Tama counties.

According to Balik, the Americans with Disabilities Act made Jane's help possible.

Balik said a visit to his Cedar Rapids opthamologist required to deal with an eye problem ironically started him on the road to regaining his sight. He was referred to University of Iowa hospitals in Iowa City. There, after numerous tests and procedures, Balik underwent an operation known in medical terminology as the "Multicenter Boston Type 1 Keratoprsothesis."

That operation has been performed on patients with corneal blindness as the result of chemical burns to the cornea as in Balik's case and due to other causes.

According to Balik, Dr. Kenneth Goins first implanted a synthetic, plastic material into his cornea. As a preventive measure, another physican, Dr. Young Kwon installed a tube to regulate pressure to prevent glaucoma, a possible side affect of the operation. However, a blood clot developed in his eye which required a third physican, Dr. Stephen Russell, to operate successfully reliving the pressure caused by the clot.

"One thing I want to add is that many friends have been praying for me during this journey," he said. "I do not believe that this outcome would have been as positive as it is today. Infection can be a problem so I ask for continued prayers that everything continues on the healing path.



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