Is this the best Christmas present ever?

What are you looking forward to getting for Christmas? I bet it’s not a patch on the present Norman Simpson was given on the 27th November.

Norman has had trouble with his eyesight from birth. He says he was always a disappointment to his sporting father because he could never quite keep his eye on the ball. After a vicious assault in his 20s, he was left completely blinded in his right eye.

Over the next two decades a series of increasingly serious eye problems left Norman needing several cornea transplants.

The problem with these natural transplants is that they are often rejected and can deteriorate and become cloudy over time. The operation can only be done a certain number of times.

Eventually in 2006 Nornman began to descend into darkness. In 2008 he was finally registered as completely blind. Both he and his wife Carmel fled from Northern Ireland in the early 1970s.

A Catholic and Protestant union was not acceptable during the Troubles; the resilience they showed in their partnership probably gives clues to their optimistic outlook. At their home in Brentwood, they never entirely lost hope.

Having heard of the work of leading eye surgeon Sheraz Daya on a report on BBC London and coverage in newspapers, Norman asked his own local eye specialist to refer him to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead.

In the meantime he continued to get used to the idea of a life of blindness. Getting used to needing to be accompanied everywhere by his wife Carmel, a former Deputy Head at a Brentwood Secondary School, or close friends.

He had, for example, got used to using a white stick and then latterly began preparations to take on a guide dog. It was a daunting prospect. He would lie awake at night dreading the following day, hoping to fall asleep and forget about the challenges that lay ahead.

Artificial Cornea

Medical Director Sheraz M Daya explains why for Mr Simpson an Artificial Cornea was the only option left.

When his appointment with Sheraz Daya came up 18 months ago at the Eye Centre at the Queen Victoria Norman was rather taken aback when he was told a new technique of implanting an artificial cornea could work with him.

So far Daya, is the only UK surgeon who carries out this pioneering procedure first developed in Boston in the USA. He conducted the surgery on Norman by local anaesthetic at the end of November.

Almost immediately Norman had clear vision in his left eye and the first thing he recalls seeing was wife Carmel smiling at him. He says it was a simply fabulous sensation not having seen his wife properly for nearly 10 years. Needless to say he was not disappointed.

Daya believes that the operation should become routine on the NHS because of technological advances. The big problem is no other surgeons beyond the Queen Victoria are currently able to offer the procedure to the several thousand people Daya thinks could benefit from it across the country.

BBC London has been told that Moorfields Eye Hospital, near Old Street, is considering the procedure but is not yet ready to undertake it.

Visiting Norman and Carmel at home in the current big freeze they are both full of the joys of Spring. After 45 years of marriage they feel they have a chance to experience discovering the world afresh, after thinking they were destined to a life focussed increasingly around home.

The couple have a passion for French wine and a small share in a vineyard. For the best part of a decade Norman has enjoyed tasting and smelling the full bodied red. In 2011 his visit to Provence will mean for the first time he will be able to crack open a bottle and enjoy the view with Carmel.

Now, tell me you are getting something better than that for Christmas?

Read more about Corneal Transplants

Sheraz Daya – BBC Interview on Artificial Cornea

Author Information

Authored by Sheraz Daya MD FACP FACS FRCS(Ed) FRCOphth, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon & Medical Director, June 2019.

Next review due June 2020.