Valley man's eyesight potentially restored with rare stem cell transplant

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- For Jesus Vasquez, vision isn't just a way to get around or do his job; it's a way to not miss a moment with his family.

Four months ago, a severe chemical burn to his right eye, would mean potentially losing it until he met a Valley ophthalmologist that would change his life.

Working the fields for a living, Jesus' eyes are prone to irritation, which he finds quick relief from through eye drops.

One afternoon, he grabbed what he thought were eye drops, only to learn it was an acid used to clean gold jewelry.

Vasquez says, "That's when I instantly felt the burning and pain."

Jesus says he immediately ran to the bathroom to flush his eyes with water before rushing to the ER, where they did the same.

But the pain wasn't going away.

Hearing about Jesus' case, eye specialist Dr. Azhar Salahuddin knew he was the perfect candidate for a stem cell transplant, a rare surgery never performed here in the Central Valley, until now.

Dr. Salahuddin says, "He burned not only the white part of his eye but also the covering of his eye called the cornea. So the entire front surface of the eye was burnt; severely damaged. If we did nothing, his eye would have continued to deteriorate and eventually, he would have lost that eye. Not only would he have lost the vision, but he would also have had severe pain for the rest of his life."

Dr. Salahuddin consulted with his colleagues for months before attempting the complex procedure on Vasquez.

"We talked about the correct technique for harvesting those cells. How to transplant them, how to make sure those cells are not damaged en-route to transferring those cells," he said.

The roughly two-hour procedure took healthy stem cells from one eye and placed them in the damaged eye.

The hope is that those cells take hold, grow and replace the damaged cells.

One week post-op, Dr. Salahuddin says Jesus' eye is healing better than expected and the cells are showing signs of growth, meaning he'll regain his depth perception and peripheral vision.

"He's got a good 75% chance of having good vision in that eye," Dr. Salahuddin says. "He has a long road ahead of him and although nothing is guaranteed, I'm feeling very optimistic."

Jesus says the pain has subsided and now only time will tell if he will get his full vision back.

Vasquez says, "I'm just thankful to God that I was able to get the help that I needed and hopefully, I can get my vision back."
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