Track announcer Richard Grunder has extra reason to count his blessings this holiday season.
Grunder – who returned to the booth today after missing the first seven days of the meeting following eye surgery – had not missed a day since arriving at Tampa Bay Downs in 1984. He was already looking forward to Opening Day on Dec. 3 when he noticed a slight problem with his vision while attending the Baylor-Kansas State college football game in October.
When he returned home to the Tampa Bay area, he scheduled an eye examination. Grunder thought he might have cataracts, but the prognosis was much more serious. He was diagnosed with a detached retina in his right eye. “In a matter of three weeks, I was totally blind in one eye,” he said.
Grunder underwent surgery at St. Luke’s Cataract & Laser Institute in Tarpon Springs the next day, and the procedure was deemed a success. He was out of the hospital the same day. But his sense of relief soon faded because of the rigorous post-operative care, which required him to lie face down for six hours at a time without movement over a two-week period, returning to that face-down position after 60 minutes for another six-hour spell.
The following week, he had to lie face down for five hours at a time, then for four hours at a time for another week. “I had to stay that way because they put in a gastric bubble between the retina and the cornea, which re-attaches the retina and gets it back in place. That gastric bubble has to stay very stationary – you can’t be moving around. From start to finish, it was about an eight-week procedure.”
Grunder tried coping by cutting a donut-sized hole in his massage table and placing a flat-screen TV beneath the hole. “It helped for a while, but I got burned out on it,” he said.
Fortunately, Grunder’s adherence to the post-operative regimen should improve his chances for a full recovery. “The way they explained it to me, the gastric bubble attached the retina where it should be. My vision is still not perfect – I’m having to focus a little different – but they said my chances of the attachment working are good because I followed the post-op to the letter.”
Grunder thanked Calder announcer Bobby Neuman for filling in for him during his absence. “I filled in for him two years ago at Calder for two weeks during the Breeders’ Cup, so it worked out well. It just is so good to be back. I’ve gotten cards and phone calls from people I knew in the game from 35 years ago, and they have all been very supportive.
“Man, it was driving me crazy not being here,” Grunder said. “It’s just no fun when you get up in the morning and have no place to go.” Rest assured, the Tampa Bay Downs community is counting its blessings at his return.