Mircale of sight after boy gets cornea transplant

Perfect donor fit and quick healing with sophisticated new laser technique.
The Star
Thandi Skade

Lebo Seretsi couldn’t see beyond 10cm. No matter how close he got to the blackboard, he still struggled to read.

Because he struggled to keep up with the rest of his class, he became restless and disruptive and wound up failing Grade 8 last year.

But he’s hopeful his new eye will help him realise his dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.

The 15-year-old Grade 8 Krugersdorp High School pupil was the youngest patient to undergo a corneal transplant using the Intralase Enabled Keratoplasty (IEK) technique.

IEK is the most advanced laser technique, first introduced into the country by ophthalmic surgon Dr Mark Deist two years ago. Deist used a laser to cut the donor cornea into shape to fit Lebo’s eye.

“What’s fantastic about this technology is that the laser cuts the templates perfectly and his cornea would fit in like a puzzle fits in,” he said.

The benefit of IEK is that the stitches come out after six months, compared to 18 months with previous techniques and the technique enables a lower rejection rate than traditional corneal transplant techniques.

A hard contact lens has been placed in Lebo’s eye to hold the cornea in place and prevent the donar cornea from disfiguring. Only one of his corneas has so far been replaced. The second transplant is expected to take place in a year’s time provided there is a matching cornea available.

keratoplastyAlthough born with the condition, Lebo discovered that he suffered from keratoconus – a progressive eye disease that causes the normally round cornea to thin and bulge into a cone-like shape that over time distorts one’s vision – only in 2006.

Originally from Potchefstroom, his mother Keikantseng had brought him and his three siblings to Joburg for Lebo’s monthly treatments and quarterly check-ups at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

Then Nadia Steenkamp, Lebo’s maths teacher, noticed there was a problem. ‘He would literally sit less than 2m from the board and he still couldn’t see. Whenever he read anything he held it 10 cm from his eyes.”

She took him for an eye test, and he was told his eyesight had deteriorated so much that a corneal transplant was the only option for restoring his eyesight. Since then, Steenkamp has been copying has been copying transparencies of her lessons for Lebo to follow on his own while she writes on the board for her other pupils.

Lebo had been on the corneal transplant list since 2007, each year slipping lower down the list, and  had all but given hope, when finally his moment arrived.

Deist performed the corneal transplant free of charge as part of the Sandhurst Eye Centre’s eye care awareness week two weeks ago.

Lebo’s donar eye, worth R20 000, was donated by the US – based eye bank International Sight Restoration.

In just one week since his surgery, Lebo can already see far better than he could before. Although he’ll have to avoid contact sports for a few months, he can’t wait to play soccer and looks forward to studying.

“I’m so happy and excited, I never expected to get the transplant now- I thought in 20 years only,” he said.