Blind World Magazine

Fuchs' dystrophy.
deep lamellar endothelial keratoplasty, or DLEK for short.

August 06, 2005.
Daytona Beach News Journal (Florida).

When Evelyn Rogers' fourth-graders come to class at Indian River Elementary School on Monday, she will be looking at them with a new set of eyes.

Rogers, 56, is the recipient of two corneal transplants -- the first in her left eye in June 2003, and the most recent, in her right eye, this past June.

While the surgery does not make her unique -- corneas have been transplanted for almost 100 years -- the technique used on her right eye is new.

The procedure is called deep lamellar endothelial keratoplasty or DLEK for short.

Instead of removing the entire diseased cornea -- the clear part of the eye -- and then replacing it with donated tissue, as was done in to Rogers in 2003, with the new technique, a surgeon makes only a small incision. He uses specialized instruments to remove the diseased tissue from the back of the cornea and healthy tissue is inserted through the incision. An air bubble is used to hold the transplant in place.

"The recovery was night and day from the previous surgery," Rogers said. "The first time, there was a lot of pain and it took a lot of time to recover. This time there was no discomfort at all."

While the vision in her right eye is still unfocused, Rogers expects the sight to come back quickly because it will be easier for her to be fitted for a corrective contact lens. With her left eye, the process took almost a year.

"This eye is about two months ahead of my left eye," she said.

Rogers suffers from Fuchs' dystrophy, a hereditary and degenerative disease of the cornea that causes painful blistering and fogged vision. Since there is no cure for the disease -- without the transplants -- Rogers said she would have been effectively blind, ending her 34-year teaching career.

She is hopeful her transplants will provide a permanent fix, but with as any organ donation there is the possibility her body will reject the tissue. If that occurs, she would need another transplant.

Rogers said when her surgeon, Dr. Miguel Lugo of Altamonte Springs, suggested DLEK, she agreed to try the new procedure.

"He said we could always do the old procedure without any consequences," she said.

As it turned out, the Oak Hill resident was Lugo's first attempt at DLEK.

Lugo said it was a matter of Rogers' condition -- the damage was limited to the back of her cornea -- and timing --he was in the process of being trained to use the latest equipment for the operation.

He said since then, he has used the technique on six patients.

"It is a brand new procedure," he said by telephone from his office. "You can't do it on everyone, but it works for a significant number of patients. We are very excited about it."

Unlike her first surgery, Rogers knows nothing about the donor of her new cornea.

In 2003, the widow of the man whose cornea Rogers received reached out to her.

Transplant officials say such contacts are rare because of privacy concerns and the possibility of unrealistic expectations. But Rogers said the meeting was beneficial for both parties and they still correspond.

This time she would love to know and say thank you to the family of her donor, but knows the chance of that is pretty remote.

Rogers has used her experience to educate the public about the importance of organ and tissue donations.

"Without such willingness, there'd be no cure for my Fuchs' dystrophy and my quality of life would be greatly impaired, not to mention very painful," she said.

Jason Woody, executive director of the Central Florida Lions Eye and Tissue Bank Medical Eye Bank of Florida estimates 3,000 corneas are transplanted annually in the state. His organization provides donor services for Central Florida.

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