Health Watch - Helping Blind Kids See

Many of them are with children. There are 44,000 corneal transplants every year to replace damaged corneas, but they're rarely successful in kids. And without a healthy cornea, there is no sight. Now, a sight-saving surgery is helping the littlest patients.

Sam Clanton is a tough 3-year-old. He was born with Peter's Anomaly -- a disease marked by distorted corneas -- that left him blind.

"When he opened his eyes, we saw that there was just something terribly wrong," says Sam's mother, Yvonne Clanton.

Searching for help, Sam's parents found James Aquavella, M.D., a corneal surgeon at the University of Rochester in New York.

"I think there's every reason to give these children a chance if you possibly can," Dr. Aquavella says.

After 40 years of research, he's giving kids that chance by restoring their sight with plastic artificial corneas.

"These devices behave and provide the pristine quality of optics as good as, if not better than, the normal eye," says Dr. Aquavella.

First, doctors clear away the cloudy and diseased tissue. Then, a plastic cornea is sewn onto the eye.

"That then provides a clear image that gets focused onto the back of the eye, like the image that gets focused onto the back of your digital camera," Dr. Aquavella explains.

The implant has been used in adults for a few years but was never tried in kids. Dr. Aquavella was the first in the world to try it and has treated 45 children. Nearly all have regained sight to various degrees and are doing fine.

"You never know when the breakthrough is going to come through," Dr. Aquavella says.

Just two days after Sam's surgery, he can see well enough to walk directly to his toys. It's a dramatic first.

"Just to have hope is just wonderful. It was beyond wonderful. It was really like a miracle," Yvonne says.

Children have come from all over the world to see Dr. Aquavella for this sight-saving surgery. It can help children who have any kind of corneal damage or disease. The sooner children have the surgery, the better the outcome. Dr. Aquavella says some of the children he has treated who were blind are now reading and in regular school classes.


James Aquavella, M.D.
University of Rochester Medical Center
(585) 275-8944

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