Corneal transplants can be life-changing by giving people the gift of sight.
But the NHS is struggling to meet demand and needs more eye donors.Today, as part of our “Lancashire: Giving the gift of life” campaign, Aasma Day talks to a Lancashire grandfather who would have been registered partially sighted without his two transplants.
“Grandpa has a dead person’s eyes!”
Shaking his head with amusement, Dave Mayo says: “That’s not strictly true but it’s my 10-year-old grandson’s interpretation of it.
“Having two corneal transplants has been life-changing for me and if I hadn’t had them done, I would be stuck in a chair now and be unable to do hardly anything.”
Dave, 67, who lives in Fulwood, Preston, and is married to Nancy, first started noticing his vision was getting cloudy around the age of 45.
At first, it was relatively minor, but as time went on, the problem got worse and he went to his optician who referred him to hospital.
Dave, who has two daughters and four grandchildren, was diagnosed at the age of 50 with Fuch’s Corneal Dystrophy.
Dave, who worked for BAE Systems in Warton as a metallurgist for 32 years and is now retired, explains: “It is quite a rare condition and with it, the cornea very gradually becomes cloudy.
“I was told there was no cure for it and that ultimately, I’d need a corneal graft.
“At first, it was quite minor and didn’t affect me too much.
“But it gradually deteriorated and started impacting my life.
“It is a bit like looking through a kitchen window when it is all steamed up.
“Then when the sun comes out or you are looking towards the light, it is a lot worse.
“You also see rings and halos around lights which makes driving very disconcerting.”
Dave found that taking part in sports became impossible as his vision made things too difficult.
He recalls: “I stopped playing golf because it just wasn’t possible.
“I could not tell the difference between a small tree in front of me or a large tree further away.
“I also found that playing crown green bowls was difficult as I had got to the stage where I couldn’t see the jack across the bowling green.”
Reading also became very problematic for Dave and he once arranged to meet one of his daughters and grandchildren but found he could not tell it was them even though they were only standing eight feet away from him.
Dave says: “My vision then started affecting my driving and that’s when you start getting scared.
“I knew the time had come for me to have a corneal transplant.”
A corneal transplant is an operation to remove all or part of a damaged cornea and replace it with healthy donor tissue.
A cornea transplant is often referred to as keratoplasty or a corneal graft. It can be used to improve sight, relieve pain and treat severe infection or damage.
Dave had his first corneal graft about five years ago at Royal Preston Hospital and the procedure used was penetrating keratoplasty.
Dave explains: “With this, they cut out the front of your eye and put a new front on it using donor eyes like the top of an egg.
“I had to have 16 stitches to put the new healthy tissue in place.
“The first thing I immediately noticed was seeing bright and vivid colours.
“One of the things you don’t realise about the condition is that you lose your vision of colour and brightness.
“But suddenly, everything was bright and vivid again.
“However, the images were very distorted because of the 16 stitches which needed to heal.
“As the stitches healed, I could see clearly again. It was two years before I had my stitches out and then I could see fine out of that eye and the cloudiness had gone.”
In April last year, Dave had his second corneal transplant and this time a new technique called DSAEK (Descemet’s Stripping Automated Endothelial Keratoplasty) was used which meant no stitches.
Dave says: “The damaged layer is not at the front of the cornea but is the second layer.
“With this technique, the surgeons go in through the side of the eye to strip off the back of the cornea.
“They then replace it with an incredibly thin piece of donor cornea.
“They fold it like a taco and put it in through the hole and then use gas bubbles to position it through the back of the cornea.
“You then have to lie flat on your back for 24 hours so you act as a spirit level so the bubble puts the donor cornea on top of your own.
“As there were no stitches to the front of the eye, the recovery was a lot quicker.
“In about three or four days, the bubble dispersed and I could see.
“My vision is now great and I have the best sight I have had for years.
“With both my eyes, I can now see all the reading chart apart from the very bottom line.
“Before that, I wore glasses for 25 years as I was shortsighted.
“But now I don’t need glasses at all apart from for reading.
“The difference these corneal transplants have made to my life is amazing and I am so grateful to the donor family.
“I can never thank them enough and have written a letter to try to express my feelings.
“Corneal transplants have changed my life by giving me my sight back and I would urge other people to consider helping people in similar situations.”
Giving the gift of life is a campaign aiming to inspire at least another 2,016 people to pledge to donate their organs during 2016.
To register as an organ donor, visit: http://bit.ly/givethegiftoflife
But more importantly, tell those closest to you that you would like to become an organ donor and then record your wishes on the donor register.
That way, when the time comes, your family and friends will know you want to be a donor to help others.