Last week I had one of the nicest packages come in the mail. No, it wasn’t a big care package filled with yummy treats from the U.S. It was something even better—a large Styrofoam cooler containing five precious fresh corneal tissues. And they were gorgeous in my sight!
Since I arrived in Zambia, I have been on a quest to find a steady source of fresh corneal tissues. My cornea transplant list continues to get longer by the day—even by the minute. As word has gotten out that I do transplants, patients have been coming to Lusaka Eye Hospital for evaluation. Some of them have been on a wait list for years. I insist that they come see me for an evaluation before we decide to put them on the final transplant list.
Receiving this package meant that five people would receive the gift of sight—a 34-year-old nun, a 49-year-old man, a 38-year-old woman, a 17-year-old girl in her first year of university, and a 39-year-old man with HIV whom I’ll call Jon.
Jon was completely blind in his left eye due to some AIDS-related retinopathy, and upon examining him I found that his right cornea was perforated.
I told Jon he probably needed a PK triple (corneal transplant plus cataract surgery plus intraocular lens implantation). Since we didn’t have fresh tissue at the time, the best we could do was to stabilize the cornea with a glycerol transplant and try to obtain fresh tissue in the future.
Jon was so discouraged, he went to another ophthalmologist for a second opinion. That ophthalmologist sent him back to me, recommending I take the perfectly good cornea from Jon’s blind left eye and transplant it into his right eye. I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to do surgery on both eyes, especially as the right cornea had a big hole in it. Fortunately, a few days after Jon returned to my office, I was notified that Midwest Eye Banks was sending some fresh corneal tissues. We phoned Jon immediately and told him the good news.
The PK triple surgery on Jon was a success. The nurse who removed the patch told me later, “I wish you had removed the patch yourself. Jon was so excited. He kept saying, ‘I see light! I see light!’ as he looked around in wonder that he could see.”
Centers of influence are currently being established in cities around the world.
A sudden rush of activity around Malamulo Hospital piqued my curiosity. What is going on? I wondered.