Air Force doctors at San Antonio Military Medical Center-South, or Wilford Hall Medical Center, returned a patient’s eyesight with an artificial corneal transplant Oct. 20.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Charles Reilly and Maj. (Dr.) Vasudha Panday, ophthalmologists in the 59th Surgical Specialties Squadron, performed the procedure, which was a first for the Air Force.
The patient had undergone multiple corneal transplants that kept failing, and doctors knew his eyes would not support another try. One more option available was a rarely performed artificial corneal transplant.
“Performing the first artificial cornea transplant in the Air Force brings Wilford Hall into the forefront of making artificial vision a reality,” said Doctor Reilly, consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for refractive surgery.
The cornea is the transparent dome-shaped window that covers the front of the eye and provides the majority of the eye’s focusing power. An artificial cornea transplant uses a combination of live donor tissue and a synthetic cornea to restore vision.
The artificial cornea is made of two plastic parts that “sandwich” a donor cornea in place. The surgery itself is then similar to a traditional corneal transplant and does not require an overnight stay in the hospital, Doctor Panday said.
“Our first artificial cornea transplant was successful and points to a very promising future for this procedure,” Doctor Panday said. “We can now offer our wounded warriors the unique opportunity to regain sight.”
The ability to perform artificial corneal transplants has evolved over the past 30 years and is now a viable option in treating wounded warriors with chemical or corneal burns.
“This technology will enable us to cure corneal blindness in our wounded warriors who suffer severe corneal burns or chemical burns or trauma to their eyes. This is a huge advancement for our ability to care for our most important asset — our people,” Doctor Reilly said.
Kimberly A. Yearyean-Siers