SOUTH BEND -- Driving to his company's Granger office one day, Niel Makielski noticed the telephone poles along the road seemed to be warping as he passed them.
The chief of his company's small maintenance department and a "fix-it" guy all his life, Makielski finished up his work there and then drove to a doctor.
Two days later, a retina specialist delivered the grim news: A blood vessel in his right eye was breaking, causing the warping sensation, and his retina was cracking.
About a week later, Makielski said to his wife, Myrna, while they were driving, "See that car in front of me? I see two cars stacked on top of themselves."
The retina specialist used a laser procedure to stop the bleeding in the right eye.
About a year later, Niel was driving once again when he noticed the vision on his other side was warping, too.
"I got to work and I called my wife and I said, 'My left eye's going,' " Niel says now.
"He was hysterical, actually," Myrna adds.
"I was crying like a baby," Niel acknowledges, adding, "I knew what was happening."
It was a little more than a decade ago that Niel Makielski was hit, at the age of 50, with the rarer, "wet" form of macular degeneration.
Now 61, he joins a growing number of people affected by a malady with no cure that leaves its victims legally blind -- and looking for help to go about their daily lives.
'Go do it'
Dr. Thomas Hauch, a South Bend ophthalmologist who specializes in retinal issues, cites major advances in treatment in the last several years. Now, the "wet" variety of macular degeneration -- the quicker, more devastating version, like Niel's -- could be stopped.
Since 1982, when he began practicing, Hauch says research has led to more ways to treat all forms of macular degeneration, which is more commonly associated with aging.
Treatments include medications injected into the eyes, but even their use is limited, he says, pointing out that the treatments aren't exactly pleasant, their effects don't last forever, and they carry some risks of their own.
But the doctor is optimistic that research will continue to help those with macular degeneration.
"What I foresee is that there'll be even newer medicines that can do the job more effectively," Hauch says.
Hauch last treated Makielski in 2004, but he recalls the man's desire to keep working with his hands even then.
"There's really some underlying fortitude in some of those people," Hauch says of people who have lost vision. "In a situation like his, if you can do it, go do it."