Give the gift of sight
Bill remembers feeling fear. Awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2019 for his service to wildlife conservation, he was losing his sight due to a condition that caused corneal swelling, and everything he lived for was slipping away.
He struggled giving talks in schools as the Western Australian coordinator of the famous primatologist Dr Jane Goodall’s ‘Roots and Shoots’ program. He couldn’t see the smart board. He couldn’t drive.
“I couldn’t do the things I loved and that frightened me more than anything,” says Bill. “The little things we all take for granted became major obstacles. When I went to a restaurant, I couldn’t read the menu. I couldn’t read the morning newspaper, or the labels at the shops.”
Now Bill has been given the gift of sight through the Lions Eye Bank. The Lions Eye Bank is Western Australia’s only provider of donated eye tissue for transplantation.
In state-of-the-art surgery, Bill received corneal transplants in both his eyes by Lions Eye Institute’s ophthalmologist Dr Steven Wiffen – the right eye in 2018 and the left last year. Unfortunately the vision in his right eye failed again requiring a third transplant this April.
“I can’t explain how grateful I feel,” says Bill. “If I couldn’t have the transplants, my life would have been hell. I’ve heard the things that cause the most trauma are losing your sight and losing your driver’s licence. I was facing both. And now I’m not.”
Bill is also acutely aware of where the precious gift he received came from. He wrote his donor’s family a thank you letter through the Lions Eye Bank and was very moved when they sent him a beautiful reply.
“They said the donor was a person who loved the environment and animals and would be ecstatic to know I got their eyes. And that just blew me out of the water.”
In its 35 years the Lions Eye Bank has helped save the sight of over 5,200 Australians like Bill. Corneal transplants are changing lives, but the reality is they can potentially fail.
Dr Jelena Kezic is a Transplant Coordinator and researcher at the Lions Eye Bank. She is exploring ways to help patients avoid recurrent surgeries. “What we are trying to do is improve the longevity of the graft, so how long the corneal graft lasts in the patient,” she says.
There are two strands to Dr Kezic’s research. Dr Kezic is looking at the process of corneal grafting – during preparation and surgical transplantation stages – and the difference it will make by preserving corneal endothelial cells that help hydrate the eye and restore sight.
Dr Kezic will also test the use of eye drops containing a Rho-kinase inhibitor drug, shown to promote wound healing. The drug may also increase the numbers of corneal endothelial cells which are needed for clear sight, but can be lost or damaged during corneal transplantations.
Your support can help us continue funding research that can improve the treatments available to people like Bill experiencing vision loss and blindness across Western Australia.