'Every day I worry I might go blind': Dick Lee

Singer-songwriter Dick Lee sharing his story of how he almost lost his sight at the VisionSave campaign launch on July 19, 2016.
Singer-songwriter Dick Lee sharing his story of how he almost lost his sight at the VisionSave campaign launch on July 19, 2016.PHOTO: SINGAPORE NATIONAL EYE CENTRE

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Singer-songwriter Dick Lee has struggled with vision problems from a young age - to the extent that he almost went blind.

He started wearing glasses at the age of three, and by the time he turned 21, his myopia was above 2,000 degrees, making him "blind" without the aid of spectacles or contact lens.

Lee, who will be 60 next month, told The New Paper over the phone on Wednesday (July 20): "When I was 21, I had (rhegmatogenous) retinal detachment. On my left eye, the retina was torn, and on my right eye, it was detached. This was the result of extreme myopia."

This happened to Lee after he completed his full-time national service and was celebrating his 21st birthday at his own punk-themed party.

He recalled: "I was doing the pogo dance, which involved very high-impact movement. This can be quite bad for the eyes.

"The next morning, I saw black spots in my vision. It was like the flashing light you see when someone takes a picture."

Lee visited the late renowned eye surgeon Professor Arthur Lim, who got Lee admitted to Mount Alvernia Hospital for surgery.

"I had the operation immediately because Dr Lim found that my retina was already detached," said Lee.

After the operation, he had to remain in the hospital for two to three weeks to recuperate. His scope of vision in the left eye was also slightly affected by the operation.

"I remember the first few days. I had to lie prone for a week and sleep with two blocks under my head because I couldn't move my head, and my hands were tied just in case I scratched my eyes.

"There was no pain at all in my eyes, the rest of me felt completely fine."

While the operation was successful, he would suffer a relapse of the retinal detachment roughly every 10 years.

"It has happened maybe three times. I live with the worry each day (that I might go blind). That's why I have resolved to treasure every day."

When Lee was in his 40s, he had cataracts in one eye, and in his 50s, he developed cataracts in the other eye.

"Most people have it when they are old. My father had it only when he was in his 80s," said Lee.

He underwent separate operations to remove the cataracts in both eyes, and found that, after years of extreme myopia, he could now see perfectly with visual aids.

"Can you imagine? I started wearing glasses when I was three and contact lenses when I was 18, but suddenly I don't need to wear them any more. It's very liberating," Lee said.

Though he has perfect eyesight now, he visits his eye doctor for annual check-ups because he is at high risk for glaucoma.

Last year, Lee was asked by Adjunct Associate Professor Ho Ching Lin, director of philanthropy at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), to be the ambassador for the VisionSave campaign.

The philanthropic campaign, jointly run by SNEC and the Singapore Eye Research Institute, was launched on Tuesday to raise awareness about eye health and raise money to deliver better patient care and services.

Lee said: "I think it's a wonderful and good cause. I want to help them raise awareness and encourage people to raise funds for the campaign."


Singer-songwriter Dick Lee's myopia was more than 2,000 degrees by the time he turned 21. Adjunct Associate Professor Ho Ching Lin, director of philanthropy at SNEC, explains what retinal detachment is and how a person copes with high myopia.

What is retinal detachment?

It is a condition where the retina detaches from the eye. Retinal detachment happens when there is a tear or break in the retina, and fluid gets through the hole, which causes the retina to detach from the back of the eye.

What will happen if one doesn't seek treatment immediately?

If retinal detachment is not repaired, complete blindness can occur.

What are the symptoms of retinal detachment?

Floaters (black spots or lines), flashes (flashing lights) and shadow curtains (dark shapes at the side of the visual field) in one's vision, peripheral vision field becoming smaller or blurred vision are some of the symptoms.

Who is most likely to have retinal detachment?

Retinal detachment can occur in all age groups, but it's more common in middle age - those in their 40s and 50s - because ageing can cause the vitreous gel (a jelly-like substance) in the eye to contract and become liquefied, which can pull on the retina and result in a tear.

However, people who have had trauma in their eye (such as getting punched), have high myopia, have a history of eye surgery (such as cataract surgery), have genetic diseases, or have a family history that is predisposed to retinal detachment, are more prone to getting it at a younger age.

What does it feel like to have myopia of more than 2,000 degrees?

They can't see at all without glasses or contact lens unless the object is very close. The more myopic you are, the more you have to hold the object closer to you.

Is having myopia of 2,000 degrees considered legally blind?

If you don't wear glasses, you are "blind", but it's not "legally blind" because with glasses you can see. Myopia is just a pure refractive error, which means you can correct your vision by wearing glasses to make it 20/20 vision.