December 29, 2003.
By Karen Hoy,
UK Newsquest Regional Press.
Former soldier Lionel James will be seeing in the new year for the first time in more than seven years - thanks to his eye tooth.
The retired soldier who travelled the world in his 22-year-career has never been able to see his youngest grandchild Phoebe six and faced the rest of his life in darkness after going blind.
But through complex pioneering surgery using one of his eye teeth and a piece of bone from his jaw he will be able to see his family once again.
Lionel developed problems with his sight back in 1952 and was diagnosed as suffering from glaucoma a condition in which the internal pressure of the eye is raised causing damage to the optic nerve.
His condition failed to respond to treatment and he lost his eyesight completely seven years ago after suffering an allergic reaction to the treatment which was supposed to have helped him.
Lionel 72 who now lives in Wells Somerset but previously lived in Plumpton near Lewes had to rely totally on his wife Elaine to help him with almost every task.
He said: "I started having problems with my eyes when I was about 51. It got so bad that I had to pack in work when I was 54.
It was very difficult for me to get out and about. I couldn't goanywhere without my wife.
Lionel a father-of-two turned to St Dunstan's Centre for Blind Ex-Servicemen and Women in Ovingdean for support and was given computer training and help in adapting to a life of darkness.
But blindness hit him hard. He had always travelled throughout his Army career between 1949 to 1971 with the 7th Hussars and then the Queen's Own Hussars.
He then spent three years in the Middle East for Oman's Ministry of Defence.
During his military career he served in Hong Kong Malaysia the Canal Zone North Africa and Germany.
Ironically it was consultant ophthalmic surgeon Christopher Liu who was born in Hong Kong who introduced the procedure to the UK through his work at the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton. He carried out the intricate and pioneering procedure which gave Lionel back his sight back.
The former soldier was referred to Brighton by staff at Bristol's eye hospital who were also treating him after he moved to the West Country.
Lionel said: "I couldn't have cornea transplants because they were rejected by my body all the time. But when doctors suggested this treatment I was all for it. I was more worried about people around me because it was putting them under great stress and it was quite a new treatment."
Mr Liu explained how the complex procedure called Osteo-Odonto-Keratoprosthesis (OOKP)works.
In the first stage superficial scar tissues over the cornea are removed and the whole eye surface covered with thick mucous membrane taken from inside the patient's cheek.
A single rooted tooth usually a canine is removed from the jaw together with a small block of jawbone. The crown of the tooth is held while the tooth root and surrounding bone is fashioned into a rectangular plate.
A hole is drilled through the dentine of the tooth root allowing a custom made optical cylinder to inserted. This is now called the OOKP lamina.
The OOKP lamina is placed under the muscle of the lower eyelid of the other eye for a period of two to four months.
In the second operation usually carried out up to four months later the mucous membrane cover is raised and a hole is made through the centre of the scarred cornea.
The iris and lens are removed followed by the jelly of the eye. The OOKP lamina is retrieved from the other eye and is inserted through the hole in the cornea. The lamina is sewn in firmly. A check is made to ensure it is not tilted filtered air is used to reflate the eye and the mucous membrane flap is replaced.
Lionel underwent his first seven-hour operation in May and his second of the same length in September. Both operations were carried out on his right eye.
Following his second operation and the removal of bandages days later Lionel lifted his eyelid and had some vision for the first time in seven years.
He said: "My wife had come in to my room at the hospital to see me and I told her to stand by the television set. I told her to turn around and I lifted my lid and I could see her. I said: 'You'll do.'
It was amazing. I hadn't been able to see my family for years. I havea six year-old granddaughter I had never been able to see.
Lionel is the 23rd person in the UK to have undergone the procedure which was developed by Professor Giancarlo Falcinelli of Italy.
The technique was introduced to the UK in 1997 by Mr Liu who is now passing on his knowledge to surgeons from around the world.
Lionel was at the eye hospital in Brighton again just before Christmas for a consultation about some further plastic surgery on his eye.
He said: "I never expected to see again and here I am looking around the room and pictures on the wall. The joy of it is I can go around the house on my own and do a bit of gardening. I can choose my own shirt to wear. It's given me a whole new life."
Lionel and his wife last took a holiday two years ago but without his sight he found the experience stressful.
We're now planning to go away in May, to Italy perhaps. And this timeI'll be able to see everything.
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