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Rays’ Tommy Pham shares story of eye condition that threatened career

Tommy Pham spoke to more than 150 doctors in San Francisco about his eye condition, keratoconus.
The Rays' Tommy Pham proved to be one of the team's best players in 2019. His success is made more remarkable by overcoming a debilitating eye disease in years past that threatened his career.
The Rays' Tommy Pham proved to be one of the team's best players in 2019. His success is made more remarkable by overcoming a debilitating eye disease in years past that threatened his career. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Oct. 16, 2019
Updated Oct. 16, 2019

Tommy Pham knows how to keep his eye on the ball when he’s in the batter’s box. The Rays outfielder played a significant role in Tampa Bay’s offense, regularly batting in the top third of the lineup and appearing in 145 regular-season games. He did it all despite obstacles from a genetic eye condition.

In a post on his personal Instagram profile Wednesday morning, Pham said he traveled to San Francisco and spoke about keratoconus, an eye condition he has had to overcome to keep his baseball career alive. The event, sponsored by Avellino Lab USA, had about 150 doctors in attendance.

“I flew to San Francisco to talk about early genetic detection for keratoconus,” Pham said in his Instagram post. “A rare eye condition in which thinning of your cornea occurs.”

Related: RELATED RAYS: A 2020 vision of the Tampa Bay Rays

Pham, 31, was diagnosed with the condition in 2008 after hitting .218 in a disappointing minor-league season with the Quad Cities River Bandits.

In 2011, he underwent a career-saving treatment called Holcomb C3-R, using ultraviolet light and vitamin application to stabilize the shape of his corneas and prevent future warping.

According to the National Keratoconus Foundation, keratoconus “is a non-inflammatory eye condition in which the normally round dome-shaped cornea progressively thins, causing a cone-like bulge to develop. This results in significant visual impairment.”

“Myself and Steph Curry are two known athletes with the condition,” Pham said.

In a spring-training interview with the Tampa Bay Times’ Rays beat writer Marc Topkin, Pham’s former minor-league and major-league manager in St. Louis Mike Schildt called his recovery from the condition "one of the most impressive athletic feats.’’

“Baseball is the most highly visual game there is,” said Shildt, who also has keratoconus. “This guy has dealt with a disability that is hard for people that have it, speaking from experience to just function. And you’re talking about being an elite major-league player.”

Pham led Rays hitters in plate appearances (654), hits (155), doubles (33), walks (81), on-base percentage (.369) and stolen bases (33). Curry, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and three-time NBA Finals champion with the Golden State Warriors, has averaged 23.5 points per game over his 10-year career.

“With early genetic detection, it can almost prevent the disease and save your vision!” Pham wrote.

The outfielder continues to wear contact lenses to improve his vision.

This is not the first time that Pham has shared his story about the eye condition. In 2017, he was named an ambassador for the National Keratoconus Foundation.

The National Keratoconus Foundation hosted Keratoconus Day with Tommy Pham at a June 12 Rays home game. Tampa Bay hosted Oakland at Tropicana Field, and the foundation hosted a private postgame reception with Pham and keratoconus experts.

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