On the fourth day of training for a title defense in Buffalo early this month, Ray Leonard suddenly saw spots.
"The first three days (of training) were rough, as usual," he said yesterday. "On the fourth day, I saw spots, but I thought it was from fatigue, or maybe from looking at the sun. Then I said it's too cold for sunspots" in Buffalo in May.
"I said I should go to the doctor."
Leonard went immediately to a doctor, but, as it turned out, he trained for a week after that with a dangerously detached retina before he found a physician who advised of the urgency of his condition. Two days later, his scheduled title defense was off and he was in surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital with his boxing future in doubt.
At a press conference, Leonard recalled yesterday the harrowing period between the time he first noticed spots in his field of vision and when he finally had a diagnosis that explained the problem.
The first doctor he saw when the spots appeared in his left eye was not a specialist, he said. The doctor checked his left eye and didn't think it was too serious, according to Leonard. He was given eye drops and told to see a specialist after the fight, he said.
He used the drops for the next week as he banged around in the sparring ring, trying to protect the injured eye. But he was still seeing spots so he went to a specialist who checked him thoroughly and diagnosed a partially torn retina.
"I asked him how serious was it, and was the fight off?" said Leonard. "He said, 'If I was you, I wouldn't fight.' "
The doctor told him, "It's not an emergency but it's urgent to get it done," Leonard said. "When he said that, you know, you never think it would happen to you."
Leonard said he was really upset. His plan at that point (this was on a Friday) was to wait out the weekend and go to Hopkins' Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore on Monday, May 10. But he "couldn't take the wait," he said, and flew out Saturday.
That day, he saw Dr. Ronald Michels at Hopkins, who told him "it was serious, but we were lucky because gravity was working for us," since the tear was on the bottom of the eye and it wasn't being pulled away any farther by natural forces.
Leonard said Michels warned him that it was possible that within only a week or two he could lose sight in the eye.
Leonard said he wanted to go home and get his courage up for the operation, but his wife Juanita persuaded him not to. "I'm not saying she's the boss," said Leonard with a laugh. "But she said to stay." The operation took place the next day.