San Diego Padres’ Tommy Pham Talks Keratoconus

San Diego Padres’ Tommy Pham Talks Keratoconus

by Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, FSLS

  • July 23, 2021

One of the most recognized athletes with the eye disease, keratoconus, is our own San Diego Padres’ outfielder Tommy Pham.  He joins NBA superstar Steph Curry and two-time NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse in rising to the highest level of their game while defying keratoconus, which can cause serious visual impairment.

Tommy Pham Swag ChainOver the course of more than a dozen visits, I have had the privilege to optimize Pham’s vision while getting to know a side of him away from the camera.  I have worked as part of his team which includes some of the nation’s most recognized eye care professionals.  Pham’s story is an inspiring one.  He has kindly allowed me to share it.Tommy Pham Extra Bases

Pham is no stranger to adversity.  At the end of last season, he fractured a bone in his left hand.  Pham then survived a horrific off-season stabbing.  Last month, he lost consciousness and got stitches after a full-speed collision with a teammate while chasing a flyball.  During his eye visits, I have seen his forearm in a cast, his many stitches, and his scars.  Beyond these physical hardships, Pham has endured inconsiderate fan taunts, even at Petco Park.  This upsets me because I know how hard Pham has worked and because he has feelings just like us.  All the while, he has battled distorted vision due to keratoconus.  For most with keratoconus including Pham, custom rigid-surface contact lenses are essential for restoring vision.

Tommy Pham Batting KeratoconusOver the backdrop of many eye visits, I have observed Pham’s resiliency recovering from multiple injuries and proving his detractors wrong.  It is nothing short of remarkable that Pham is competing at highest level in a visually demanding sport, ironically with a disease which makes it hard to see.  There have been countless lens parameter modifications – some failing miserably – but all serving to identify what works best systematically.  Through it all, Pham has dedicated tremendous time and effort to this endeavor, going on leaps of faith to explore various contact lens design changes and leaving no stone unturned.  It is a process which is still ongoing, and part of his growth mindset.  After a sluggish start to this season, Pham’s batting came alive in June in a remarkable turnaround.  Deservedly so.Tommy Pham Bat Flip

Recently, Pham stopped by ReVision Optometry for new contact lenses and for a short interview. Below is a lightly edited transcript.  Others with keratoconus can take inspiration from Pham, knowing that with professional eye care and treatment, it does not need to derail one’s hopes and dreams.

Brian Chou, OD: Many of our keratoconus patients view their condition as a burden and affliction.  For you, what is the best thing about having keratoconus?

Tommy Pham: Being able to play in Major League Baseball with something that almost makes it impossible.

You mentioned to me that some of your teammates tease you about your vision, but in a good-natured way.  Can you elaborate?

I am always checking my vision everywhere – in the locker room, dugout, and on the field – so my teammates may hold up a finger or two and ask me, “How many?”

Some of our keratoconus patients are teenage athletes.  What advice would you give them?

Believe in yourself.  This what my favorite tattoo says.  I was always told that I would not make it in this game.  But I worked my tail off and I am here.Tommy Pham Tattoo

Q: You are often on first base looking to steal second.  Tell me something that an opposing first baseman said to you that made you laugh.

“You already got two today Pham.  No need to make it three!”

Q: Can you share something about yourself which San Diegans do not know about?

I love working with underprivileged kids and giving back this way.  It is something I have done in other cities where I have played.  COVID-19 has so far derailed this in San Diego, but I look forward to starting it up.

Tommy Pham is a National Keratoconus Foundation (NKCF) Ambassador.  Follow Tommy Pham on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  Cheer him and the Padres on at an upcoming game at Petco Park.  ReVision Optometry is a referral-based practice in San Diego concentrating on keratoconus and scleral contact lens prescribing.  All photos courtesy of Tommy Pham.