Being outdoors has always been a job requirement for athletic director William Johnson, whose fair skin has suffered the effects.
Johnson, 57, has served as the AD at Silver Lake Regional High School in Kingston, Mass. for 11 years. Prior to that, he taught high school biology for 25 years. He also coached track and field and soccer.
“I’m constantly outside,” he said. “It might be a cool April morning when I leave the house, but by afternoon it’s 75 and sunny and I’m heading home with a red face.”
The years of sun exposure eventually caught up to Johnson when, two years ago, he went in for a routine dermatology appointment. His dermatologist detected actinic keratoses (AKs), precancerous growths on the surface of his forehead and cheeks. AKs are the most frequently diagnosed skin disease by U.S. dermatologists, with more than five million treatment visits per year.
The growths tend to form in areas that receive the greatest amount of sun exposure, such as the face, lower lip, scalp, ears, neck, forearms and hands. The common cause is unprotected, long-term or intense exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
Johnson, who is of Norwegian and Scottish descent, admits that during his childhood, sunscreen wasn’t an available option.
“Growing up, I probably had 10-12 sunburns that made my skin bubble,” he said. “That’s just the way it was for us back then.”
To remove his AKs, Johnson underwent four treatments of Levulan® Photodynamic Therapy (Levulan PDT), one of the fastest growing procedures in dermatology. Developed by Wilmington, Mass., based DUSA Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Levulan PDT uses an advanced light-activated drug therapy to destroy AKs.
Patients are required to avoid exposing their skin to sunlight and other forms of bright light for at least 48 hours before and after the treatments. Redness and swelling may last up to four weeks, but the treatment leaves no visible scars or marks.
“Because I had so many spots, this was really the only option for me,” said Johnson. “Freezing them would have left too many white blotches all over my face.”
Virtually all of his AKs were destroyed during the four-month treatment period, and only a minimal amount has since appeared. As a byproduct of Levulan PDT, the texture of his skin has also improved.
“I was very pleased to see them all disappear,” he said. “I’d do it again, no question.”
Johnson’s wife Lorraine, a nurse at Caritas Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, couldn’t agree more.
“I’ve seen patients lose their noses or ears, as a result of skin cancer,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be have access something that will destroy the AKs before they develop into something more serious.”
Lorraine, who had previously undergone two surgeries to remove sun spots on her face, was so inspired by her husband’s success that she went ahead with six Levulan PDT sessions of her own.
“The treatment was far better than having to go through surgery and walking around with abrasions on your face,” she said. “It was so much easier. And not only did it take care of my AKs, but it freshened up my whole face. The cosmetic effect was an added bonus.”
The Johnsons, who have four children ranging in age from 18-26, continue to see their dermatologist regularly. But thanks to the reversing effects of Levulan PDT, they’re also able to maintain their normal routines.
“It would be impossible for me to stay out of the sun,” said Johnson, who remains a fixture on the Silver Lake sidelines. “But it gives me more confidence that this is something that can at least be treated.”
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