Celebrating the 40th anniversary of his sight saving surgery

Tuesday 21st September 2021

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of his sight saving surgery

When John was referred from his hometown of Derby to our hospital for surgery to save his sight, little did he think that 40 years later he would be contacting us to say thank you.

John explains: “When I was in my late teens I started having problems reading at school but my optician wasn’t sure what the problem was. I tried glasses but my vision was changing fast and I was fortunate an optician recognised this as Keratoconus. I was fitted with micro RGP contact lenses but as my condition got worse I was getting regular corneal abrasions and sometimes I’d blink and the lens in the worst eye would just flick out.

“After being seen by a few different opticians and consultants I was eventually referred to QVH who confirmed I had Keratoconus. I’d never heard of it before, neither had anyone in the family or friends; there wasn’t the same amount of information available as there is now – this was way before the internet!”

Keratoconus is a condition where the normally round dome-shaped clear window of the eye (cornea) progressively thins causing a cone-like bulge to develop. Left untreated, it affects the eye’s ability to focus properly and causes poor and blurred vision. It is something that affects more than 1 in every 2,000 people.

At QVH John was treated by internationally renowned expert consultant on corneal grafting, the late Tom Casey. In October 1980, he had a corneal transplant to remove the abnormal part of his cornea and replace it with a donated cornea. John continues: “I remember being in hospital for two weeks and when the bandages were removed several days after the operation, realising I had good vision straight away. The registrar had done such neat stitches the nurse said he should do embroidery!” In February 1982 John went back to QVH to have the stitches removed.

John Thatcher now

John Thatcher now, holding his grandson

Since then John says he has “never looked back”. “I’m now in my 70s and have been retired several years, but that graft allowed me to have a very full family life and active career, both of which would otherwise have been greatly diminished. I worked in the space industry on several satellite programmes including a lot of time working with NASA, so good sight has been crucial.

“Over 40 years later it [the graft] is still giving me 6/5 vision [6/6 being classed as perfect vision] with a mini-scleral contact lens over it. I wear lenses all day long and, when I put them in, I have the daily miracle of sight and I can’t thank you enough for that.”

Samer Hamada, consultant ophthalmic surgeon and clinical lead of our corneoplastic unit said: “QVH continues to be at the forefront of cornea and eye surface diseases, a legacy that started more than 60 years ago. We are referred and treat patients from across the UK and Europe, and thanks to the refinement of corneal surgeries it is now safer and more effective than ever before.

“John’s eye condition (Keratoconus) is now treated using cornea cross-linking which is a minimally invasive procedure to stop or slow its progression. If the condition is very advanced then a partial thickness corneal transplantation can be performed. Recovery is much quicker and in most cases the procedure is carried out as a day case. We are also proud to be one of the very few eye units around the country and the world to perform suture-less corneal transplantation.

“40 years ago, transplanting cornea cells or thin layer of the cornea as thin as 20 microns was a dream! Now it is a reality thanks to the skilled team, advanced technology, and the amazing work at the QVH Eye Bank which was established as the first eye bank in the UK in 1952.”

Could you give the gift of sight?

At QVH we carry out around 250 cornea transplants a year, but there is a recognised national shortage of people donating their corneas after they die. Your corneas are the part of the body you are most likely to be able to donate – but have you thought about whether you might be a potential donor when you pass away? We would like everyone to have a conversation with their friends and family about their wishes when it comes to donation. We know first-hand that it is a life-changing gift.

John’s story is taken from our newsletter QVH News. You can read the whole newsletter here.