Doctor looks to give back to community through skills

Optometrist Jeff Oberg examines Avon resident Michael Schafer’s eyes. Press photo – Rebecca Turman

Avon

There’s a story behind each pair of eyes optometrist Jeff Oberg examines. And just like his patients, Jeff has his own story to tell – one that’s forever changed his perspective on life.

Jeff, a 38-year-old Avon resident, is lucky to be alive, and he doesn’t take that for granted for one moment.

He has been cancer-free for three and a half years, and while he and his family’s lives were consumed with his illness years ago, today they are moving forward with the Avon Vision Centre, Jeff’s first business venture as an optometrist.

Eye-opening illness

Rewind to the end of 2006.

“I had more energy than anybody I knew,” he said of his health prior to becoming ill.

But Jeff and his wife, Diane, started to notice several signs that indicated something wasn’t right.

“You just had flu-like symptoms,” Diane said of Jeff’s signs in the beginning. “He had night sweats.”

His unknown illness also affected him at the workplace – another optometrist office.

“I would literally do an eye exam and fall asleep on the floor in between appointments,” he said.

A couple days before Jeff was diagnosed, the family went to Great Wolf Lodge water park in Sandusky.

“He was sleeping while I was driving,” Diane said, adding that was very uncharacteristic for her husband.

She asked Jeff if there was a history of cancer in his family because she knew of a history in her own. But he had none.

The morning Jeff was due to have his blood tested at the lab, Diane found him throwing up in the bathroom, another sign something was wrong.

Jeff was so “out of it” he drove to the lab, forgetting to take his wallet with him, which had his insurance card it in, Diane said.

Nov. 30, 2006, was the day the Obergs discovered what was ailing Jeff, Diane said.

When a friend, who is a doctor, saw Jeff’s lab results, he said, “You’ve either got some really bad infection or you’ve got leukemia,” Diane and Jeff recalled.

He had acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).

According to a publication from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, “60 percent of new cases of this disease are diagnosed in children, but it can occur at any age.”

Asked how far the disease had progressed by the time it was discovered, Jeff said, “I was late, late in the seventh or eighth-inning.”

“They called me ‘the enigma’ down there,” he said of the Cleveland Clinic staff’s response to his survival.

Soon after Jeff was diagnosed with ALL, he spent more than 200 days at the Cleveland Clinic, fighting for his life, he said.

Not only was his body fighting the cancer, but it was fighting the treatment as well. Jeff’s body didn’t take well to the chemotherapy, he said. In fact, he couldn’t even finish it.

“I would have been killed from the side effects,” he said.

At one point during Jeff’s illness, Diane said she called C. Thomas Cleaton, a priest from St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Avon, to pray for her husband at the hospital.

After the prayer, Diane said she stood outside of Jeff’s hospital room and began to talk over funeral arrangements with Cleaton.

Just three days later, Jeff said he woke up and said, “I’m ready to go home.”

The staff at the clinic told Jeff that would be impossible since he had been pretty much incapacitated for the previous six weeks.

Jeff said they conducted physical therapy tests, and he passed all of them.

They let him go home.

“The ‘enigma’ is the perfect way to describe it,” he said.

Jeff said he asked one doctor how things just simply went back to normal for his health one day.

To which Jeff said the doctor responded, “Sometimes when things are going good, you just get the hell out of the way.”

Modern medicine got him to the edge and his faith took him the rest of the way, Jeff said of his recovery. He is coming up on three and a half years of remission.

“Most relapses occur within the first two,” he added. “You’re considered ‘cured’ at five years.”

A vision realized

The Oberg family moved to Avon in 2004, and around 2005-06, Jeff said he “started to craft the idea” of opening his own optometrist business in the city.

“And it all just fell apart as I got sick,” he said.

But today, with the help of his wife and his health, Jeff has made Avon Vision Centre more than just an idea. They opened their doors July 26 at 37500 Harvest Drive.

“This came from my mind to graph paper to the architect,” Jeff said of the layout of his office.

The Obergs moved forward with the business plans in February/March of this year.

“It’s a huge risk,” Jeff said of starting up a business when he’s not officially “in the clear” of the leukemia.

However, it’s one he’s willing to take.

“It’s not the same punching the clock for someone else,” he said. “It’s scary to be out on a limb like this, but I’m enjoying living again.”

Diane wasn’t completely on board with the idea, worried about her husband’s health primarily; worried he’d get sick again.

“My counter answer was, what happens if I don’t (get sick again),” Jeff said.

Community in view

Jeff wants to be a family doctor people in the community can approach.

He said he could picture a kid coming up to him at Whistler’s Ice Cream saying, “Hey Dr. O., I hit a home run with the new contacts you got.”

When Jeff printed his business cards for Avon Vision Centre, Diane said she was shocked that he put his cell phone number on them. But Jeff plans to provide his patients with access, even after hours, he said.

“I can’t compete with Walmart,” he said. “I’m selling a neighbor. I’m selling access.”

To Jeff, sharing his optometrist skills with the community is a way of giving back.

“The neighbors were there when I was sick, making dinners, cutting the grass,” he said of his friends in the Highland Park subdivision.

Today, Jeff tries to pay back his neighbors by cutting their grass and through other favors every now and then.

The Obergs each recalled some of the most touching ways their neighbors stood by them through the hard times.

For Jeff, it was the end of 2007 – Christmastime.

“The neighborhood kids came around and sang Christmas carols at my bedside,” he said, his eyes tearing up. “That was really powerful.”

Diane is grateful for all the countless times the neighbors watched their daughters.

The Oberg girls were 2 and 4 at the time. They are now 6 and 8.

“I would drop the girls off at someone’s house and run to the clinic,” she said, adding she often wouldn’t return until dinnertime.

Even in their new business venture, they have support from their neighbors.

“Right now, someone is watching our kids during the day,” Diane said of a neighbor.

As of July 29, days after opening, a handful of their Highland Park neighbors had called in to make appointments with Jeff.

In the past, Diane said her husband would field eye queries from the neighbors.

“Some mothers would bring their kids over to our house,” she said. “They had red eyes and said they were going to a pediatrician (instead of an optometrist).”

At Avon Vision Centre, the Obergs also received a planter from an old friend,  Cleaton, wishing them all the best in their new business. Diane was touched by the gesture.

Jeff is actively reaching out to the community. From 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 15, he will hold a vision screening at the Avon Public Library.

He also plans to talk to the senior center and area businesses in Avon.

After everything he’s been through, Jeff said although he is 38, he can identify with the older crowd.

He often hears those in their 80s complaining about hip problems and other health issues.

He said he tells them, “I was 35 and I was looking at the short end of the stick. I hope I have your problem (at 80).”

For more information on the Avon Vision Centre, visit www.avonvisioncentre.com or call (440) 934-2710.

Contact Rebecca Turman at rturman@2presspapers.com

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