A Sussex eye surgeon who performs radical surgery to restore his patients’ sight is the subject of a documentary on BBC1 tomorrow (October 8) at 10.35pm.
Christopher Liu, at the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton, is the only surgeon in Britain who performs a remarkable procedure known as OOKP – Osteo-Odonto-Keratoprosthesis. It is extreme surgery, involving the reconstruction of a new eye using a tiny plastic lens and one of the patient’s own teeth.
The lens is inserted into a hole drilled through the tooth, which is later implanted in the eye. As long as the retina is still functioning, the lens effectively provides a new window through which the patient is able to see. And because the tooth belongs to the patient, the body does not reject it.
The documentary from Walker George Films, ‘The Day I Got My Sight Back’, follows Mr Liu and his patient, Ian Tibbetts, a forty-two year old former forklift truck driver from Telford in Shropshire.
Since 2002, Ian has been slowly going blind and has never seen the faces of his twin four-year old boys. Despite numerous treatments to save his eyesight, nothing has worked, until now.
Mr Liu said: “OOKP is not guaranteed to restore sight but it does have a high success rate. Patients who have the surgery are often able to see immediately and the quality of sight can be extraordinarily good.
“However it is only suitable for certain types of blindness, specifically patients who have severe and irreversible corneal damage.”
The documentary also features two more of Mr Liu’s patients who have had their sight restored by OOKP. Martin Jones was a construction worker who went blind in 1996 when a vat of molten aluminium exploded in his face. Eleven years later, in 2007, he underwent OOKP.
The moment his bandages were removed he was able to see his wife for the very first time.
Bunnie Adams went blind as a result of an extremely rare auto-immune disorder in 1999. She recovered her sight in 2003 thanks to Mr Liu.
Mr Liu is one of a handful of surgeons in the world to practise OOKP.
He said: “It is a complex procedure and takes a good five years to master it. I began working on it in the mid-nineties under the tutelage of Giancarlo Falcinelli, the surgeon who perfected it. It was a big commitment and I had to learn Italian in order to work with him. But to be able to restore the sight of someone who has been blind for many years is an immense privilege.”