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Restoring sight with innovative cornea transplant surgery

03 May 2024

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A Norfolk man who has been registered blind for a year has become the first patient to undergo a new type of cornea transplant which has started to restore his sight.

Mr Chrishan Gunasekera, Consultant Ophthalmologist at NNUH, is now offering a new type of corneal transplant called a two-piece mushroom keratoplasty, which has a higher success rate of restoring vision.

Paul Mainwaring, 65, from Dersingham, has been registered blind for the last year due to scarring in both of his cornea’s (the clear window of the eye). He has not been able to walk without assistance because of his loss of vision.

In April he was the first patient to undergo the new type of two layered corneal transplant, which has the benefits of improved vision and a reduced risk of transplant rejection. With this type of transplant, 75% of the patient’s cells in their inner cornea are left, which reduces the risk of transplant rejection to around 5% compared to 40% in other procedures.

This is the first time the operation has been performed at NNUH and Mr Chrishan Gunasekera is one of only a few surgeons in the UK to perform this specialist operation, after learning the procedure from the pioneering surgeon Professor Massimo Busin in Italy.

Mr Gunasekera said: “The operation, which typically takes a couple of hours, involves splitting the donor cornea into two layers, maximising the chances of good vision and transplant survival. The mushroom configuration of the surgical wound results in faster healing and preserves the structural integrity of the eye. The technique is particularly beneficial for patients previously considered high risk of corneal transplant rejection and failure. The results are fantastic and the improvement in the quality of life for patients is huge. Paul’s vision has been restored and he is no longer legally blind. It’s brilliant that we can now offer this type of surgery to people across Norfolk and Waveney.”

Paul said: “I am in awe of Mr Gunasekera because last week I came to hospital and walked from the waiting area to the clinic room unaided, which I haven’t been able to do for 12 months. He’s also instilled in me so much confidence. He told me I will see again, so I’ve set myself a target to get back driving.

“My right eye is healing well. My left eye is a bit smoky and grey but I can pick out colours and shapes and I can see things when they are up close. I can now see my wife’s face again, and she’s lost six stone over the last year, so it’s like I have a new wife as well as my sight again!

“When I lost my vision life changed so much. It’s been a considerable journey for us both, not just me. My wife has had to do everything for me. She became my carer. I am so thankful to Mr Gunasekera and absolutely delighted with how things are going so far after my operation.”

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