Vision restored: The one-stitch eye op that saved my sight
It is a condition that causes the front of the eye to mist up. And for those who suffer a failed cornea – the clear front part of the eye – if left untreated, the condition will lead to blindness.
The most common cause is Fuchs’ dystrophy, a degenerative condition that affects older people.
Until recently, the only treatment was a full cornea transplant, an operation that involved 24 stitches in each eye and an 18-month recovery period.
Partial corneal transplants replace only the innermost layer of the cornea – the endothelium – requiring a single stitch to hold it in place. The operation takes as little as 45 minutes under local anaesthetic, compared with an hour-and-a-half for the full transplant and, because it leaves the eye intact, recovery time is just four weeks.
Problems occur due to a malfunction in the normal mechanisms that control the balance of moisture within the corneal tissues. As a result, the cornea takes on too much fluid, swells and becomes hazy.
‘Sufferers usually say vision is worse in the morning.’ Corneal grafts are successful in treating Fuchs’ dystrophy and research shows that the condition does not recur after the operation.
In the new operation, first a 5mm incision is made in the eye and surgeons create a short tunnel through to the fluid-filled chamber, which separates the cornea from the iris, the coloured part of the eye.
A sliver of endothelium is cut from a donor cornea, which is rolled up, posted into the chamber and unrolled into a flat disc. A bubble of sterile air is injected underneath the graft to float it into place on the underside of the cornea.
It takes 15 minutes for the graft to stick in place, then the air bubble is taken out and the hole in the white of the eye closed up with a stitch. Mr Leyland has been performing the operation since 2008.