Repairing Lost Eyesight

For people with damaged corneas, the only treatment option used to be corneal transplants. However, for those who have damaged tissue around the cornea, there is a chance the transplanted cornea will be rejected. A new procedure can help this group get their vision back.

Just a few months ago, Steve fell into a vat of acid while cleaning up a sulfuric acid spill at his job. He lost one eye and was blinded in the other. “I was just in severe pain, and I don’t really remember much about the accident at all,” says Steve.

Dr. Edward knew that Steve’s remaining eye was too damaged for a standard corneal transplant. Instead, he performed a new procedure called a stem cell allograft. It creates a new skin for the scarred cornea.

“We’ve seen these patients who have had regular transplant after regular transplant. Sometimes six, seven transplants in their only eye, and they’ve all failed, and some of these patients have been blind for many, many years,” says Dr.

This new surgery allows people with damaged corneas to see again. First, the stem cells are replaced. Once they are growing and supplying the new skin, a routine corneal transplant is done. “We’ve now had a success rate of 50 to 70 percent in these patients,” says Dr. “The previous success rate was zero.”

An unexpected splash of hydrochloric acid during a chemistry experiment a year ago left Ben with no vision in one eye. “I had trouble playing my horn. I couldn’t catch a ball or anything thrown at me,” he says.

Ben also had a stem cell allograft. Now he’s back to doing all the things he thought he might never do again. Both Ben and Steve are among the lucky ones. Without the stem cell surgery, they would have been blind for life.

Since the surgery, Steve has gotten his vision back. It’s now 20/50, which doctors say is good enough to drive. In addition to people with chemical injuries, this surgery can benefit anyone with a congenital defect of the iris.

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