Morro Bay City Council member Matt Makowetski has contracted a rare eye infection and is requesting a 90-day leave of absence from his duties.
Makowetski has been battling a serious condition called Acanthamoeba keratitis, which is caused by bacteria invading the cornea of the eye in contact lens wearers.
Makowetski, who wears contacts, believes he may have scratched the cornea while surfing or spearfishing this summer.
That led to the painful infection that has made it extremely difficult to read and also causes sensitivity to light. The irritation began around the beginning of July, and he thought it would pass.
Makowetski continued to serve on the council before being diagnosed by a San Francisco medical specialist, after a San Luis Obispo doctor suspected the condition.
Mayor Jamie Irons said the council will consider the leave of absence at the next meeting on Sept. 8, with advice from the city attorney on how to proceed.
In a worst-case scenario, a cornea replacement surgery could be necessary. But Makowetski is receiving weekly treatment in hopes of a full recovery.
“I mostly sit in a dark room with an eye patch on,” Makowetski said. “The last two weeks the pain has increased exponentially. It has caused debilitating problems and makes it virtually impossible for me to prepare for a council meeting by reading staff reports and getting caught up.”
Makowetski’s absence would temporarily render a four-member council, possibly splitting the vote with a tie on any divisive issue.
However, the council has had few divisions on votes since the last election that saw the departures of George League and Nancy Johnson — who were often at odds with still sitting council members Irons, Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson.
“The city attorney will advise us on the legalities, and we’ll discuss it among the council,” Irons said. “From what we know, Matt’s infection just isn’t healing. It’s really unfortunate that he’s struggling with it so much.”
Makowetski said he has never experienced the eye issue before and made several doctor visits before it was diagnosed.
The councilman is also taking sick days from his job as an English teacher in the Lompoc Unified School District, where he has worked for 18 years.
In a letter to Irons dated Aug. 22, Makowetski said he’d be willing to return to the council as soon as he’s physically able.
“In addition, if I’m unable to return, I will let the council know as soon as possible,” Makowetski said.