Vivian Luo, violinist and Faneuil Hall devotee, sees things differently now

For years, Viviane Luo has been a constant presence outside Faneuil Hall, immediately identifiable by the pop covers that flow from his transparent electric violin.

Luo, also known as “violinviiv”, quit a six-figure job in the summer of 2017 to pursue music full-time. “I love street performances – there’s a certain magic to it,” Luo, 30, said in an interview. “There’s something good about just being a human being and being on the streets, and everyone can enjoy the music and participate in it.”

But earlier this year performances were put on hold when the Malden resident contracted Acanthamoeba keratitis, or AK, a rare eye infection that commonly affects contact lens wearers and can lead to permanent vision loss. The infection only affected her right eye, she added, which to date can only see light, dark and occasional colors.

Now his act has an additional accessory – ski goggles, which prevent further irritation or damage to the eyes. Most listeners, observes Luo, think they are “just part of the costume.”

The Globe caught up with Luo to ask about his diagnosis, treatment and recent return to the streets.

Q When did you know something was wrong?

A. I had this weird feeling in my eyes because of these new contacts. I went to see the eye doctor, and he said, “It looks like a little corneal abrasion, nothing out of the ordinary.” In one week it got so bad that he [said]”You should probably go to Mass Eye and Ear.”

Q How did they arrive at the diagnosis?

A. Once we did the scraping and imaging, they were 100% sure it was Acanthamoeba keratitis. I just remember being in so much pain and being so sensitive to light. I couldn’t leave the house unless I was wearing ski goggles, and that was only for necessary errands. I was definitely not performing the first two months. It was shocking. There was a bit of “How and why did this happen?” But then you realize you won’t get straight answers [with] something like that. You can only watch: this is the situation, this is how we move forward.

Q What does the treatment look like?

A. Treatment consists mainly of eye drops. I also took these oral pills called miltefosine or Impavido for a month. They are very expensive — that’s the only thing my insurance didn’t cover. Luckily, we reached out to the CEO of the company, and he ended up donating the drug, and I’m 1000% grateful to him. All I know is that I’m much more functional than two months ago.

Q What was the performance like when you first came back?

A. I was very careful. I think I started two weeks after I started Impavido, and I was only going two hours at a time, tops. I would go to Davis Square or Assembly Row, and it was only if I felt up to it. There were many days – I would say five days out of seven – where I was just like, “There’s absolutely no way I’m leaving the house.”

Everything in my life just has a little slower pace now, but in a good way. I realized, I think he’s trying to teach me something. I’ve always been too type A. Now I have to make sure I have my ice pack. I have to make sure I have my drops. I have to do these things slowly, but efficiently. Health first.

Q Do you have questions about glasses?

A. At least once a day. Sometimes I think, “I just wear them for fun.” Many people were too worried: “Will you ever get your sight back?” At this point, I don’t have pain anymore, so compared to two, three months ago, even though I haven’t regained my sight, I’m perfectly happy.

Q How has AK affected your game?

A. Sometimes when I’m wearing my ski goggles, I close both eyes. I actually play better when my eyes are closed, because then you’re 100% connected to your sound, to your music. I think my sound quality is better.

It’s a bit different for street performance because I like to interact with my audience, so I usually keep my eyes peeled. I gave up contacts for life. But when I perform in the street, I don’t wear my glasses. Fortunately, no one attacked me; nobody stole my bucket.

Q What was it like not knowing if you would play again because of the pain?

A. When there was really so much light sensitivity and pain, I didn’t even worry about working; I was just afraid the pain would go away. I was like, “I just need to figure out how to spend this day, this hour.” I feel like my life now has a new normal and the new normal works with one eye. I was lucky enough to find a way to make it work.

The interview has been edited and condensed.


Dana Gerber can be contacted at [email protected]

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