Firefighter able to see again in left eye after cornea transplant at GPHC
By Vishani Ragobeer
After a frustrating bout of only seeing through his left eye, the vision of local firefighter Shameer Nazeer has been restored following a corneal transplant done at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).
Nazeer, a firefighter of nine years and a qualified electrician by trade, felt an irritation in his eye and thought that he was affected by conjunctivitis – or what is commonly called ‘red eye’. Acting on this assumption, he visited a pharmacy to purchase eye drops.
But, those eye drops did not provide the relief he yearned for; in fact, the irritation in his eye persisted. As he grappled with this irritation, one morning, he woke up and saw a white spot on his left eye.
Worriedly, he visited an eye clinic. There he was told that there was an infection in his eye. Later, he was diagnosed with a corneal infection.
A corneal infection causes the cornea, the transparent tissue at the front of the eye, to get cloudy, which makes seeing clearly, or even seeing at all, difficult, local ophthalmologist Dr. Celeste Hinds told the News Room on Thursday.
Dr. Hinds, who has worked with Nazeer, explained that there are a number of ways that the cornea can become affected. These include fungal or bacterial infections that infiltrate the eye, trauma to the eye such as scratches or a disease known as ‘keratoconus’ which causes the cornea to gradually bulge outward into a cone shape.
“The problem with the cornea is if it gets cloudy, it can’t function, you can’t see through it because it is a clear lens and you need it to be clear to see,” she explained simply.
As Nazeer’s infection progressed, his cornea became cloudy. Eventually, he related that a substantial portion of his vision was missing. In an attempt to illustrate just how much of his vision was lost, he folded his hand into a fist and placed it in front of his face.
Before long, he was only seeing through his right eye, which was unaffected.
“My whole life has been athletics, (I am) always in sports and everything and so the injury for me was unknown, (the infection) could’ve been anywhere because I am always in contact with the sports and so,” the firefighter lamented.
Fortunately, in May, earlier this year, he was able to benefit from a corneal transplant at the GPHC.
“You can’t get rid of opacities (the resulting cloudiness) from the eye without removing it, so corneal transplants are a way of removing that defective tissue and replacing it with clear tissues,” Dr. Hinds explained, adding: “You can only replace corneal tissue with another corneal tissue.”
Head of the Ophthalmology Department at the GPHC, Dr. Shailendra Sugrim, explained that these transplants are made possible through the New York-based George Subraj Foundation, which works to procure corneas- often from cadavers of deceased people, and then ships those tissues to Guyana.
He, however, noted that the forthcoming organ donation legislation will reduce the need of having this body part shipped to Guyana.
“Once you remove the tissue from the cadaver, it has a viability of about two weeks,” Dr. Sugrim explained also.
With the much-needed tissues in Guyana and the surgical team prepped and ready, Nazeer was able to undergo his corneal transplant.
“In my case, getting the infection was much more harder than getting the surgery,” the firefighter said, happily noting, “After surgery, everything seems to start getting better.”
It is not as easy as Nazeer makes it seem, however. In fact, Dr. Sugrim said that as many as 16 sutures, about the size of a strand of hair, are used to connect the new cornea to the individual’s eye.
Imagining tiny stitches being applied to the very delicate organ that is the eye might be off-putting and indeed, Dr. Hinds noted that it may result in some discomfort for the patients after their surgeries are completed. Still, the firefighter said that the discomfort pales in comparison to being able to see again.
“It was painful but it was worth it because now I can wake up in the morning and see, it might not be as perfect as it was but it has been a slow process and every day I’ve been getting improvement,” Nazeer emphasised.