x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Visionary operation opens up new worlds for blind

Doctor tells of 'magical moment' when 70-year-old man, who now enjoys long walks, TV and hopes to perform haj, said 'I can see' following surgery.

Ali Abdullah, a 70-year-old Emirati who was partially blind, has had his sight restored following corneal-transplant surgery.
Ali Abdullah, a 70-year-old Emirati who was partially blind, has had his sight restored following corneal-transplant surgery.

DUBAI // Ali Abdullah smiles as he greets the doctor who operated on his right eye, giving him a newfound freedom.

The 70-year-old lost all vision in his left eye when he was a child, and suffered from poor vision in his right eye.

"I was not blind," Mr Abdullah said. "I could see a little with my right eye but now I can see much better than before. My family is, of course, very happy and thankful."

His wife, Khadeeja Mahdi Hassan, came with him to the hospital earlier this month, about two months after the surgery, for his weekly check-up. But this time, she did not need to guide him through the hospital corridors, as she did before the operation.

"I am very happy that his eyesight has been restored, and now he can walk on his own with greater confidence," Mrs Hassan said. "He likes taking long walks, and enjoys watching the news, as well as listening to Quran on TV."

Mr Abdullah explained that he hopes to be able to perform haj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage, some day. The Hatta resident, whose family has lived in the area for generations, says he has six sons and eight daughters.

"When I was younger, I used to work different jobs and would travel to Saudi, Qatar and Bahrain, wherever work would take me," said Mr Abdullah. "Those were different times. I worked both at sea and on land."

Dr Moza Ali Dekhain, a consultant who is the head of the ophthalmology department at Dubai Hospital, said she is very pleased with the results of the major eye surgery on Mr Abdullah.

Before performing the surgery, the hospital imported a cornea from the United States.

"After examining the patient, we offered him the chance for corneal transplantation ... he had already been to several hospitals and they told him that there was no hope, but we could see that there was the potential for him to see," Dr Dekhain said.

"We always look at the pros and cons of any case: he was almost blind and dependent on others. He now knows where my office is and he can come alone."

Although the doctor did not set high expectations, she knew that she would still be able to help him see better. The cornea was delivered according to special criteria that ensured it was healthy and of high quality.

"We removed the cataract and put an artificial lens inside, and then we changed the cornea," she said. "The surgery needs a lot of patience and is like any graft: you have to be careful that the patient's body does not reject it."

Dr Dekhain, who has worked as an ophthalmologist since 1993, said that when keratoplasty (corneal transplantation) is performed, doctors do not expect much improvement initially, but Mr Abdullah was able to see the difference right away.

"When I saw the patient the day after the surgery, he told me, 'I can see', which was a really magical moment," she said. "There was a two-week period when Ali did not show up for his check-up, and I was beginning to get concerned, but then I found out from him that he went to Mecca to do the Umrah."

The only sign that Mr Abdullah had undergone surgery were the 16 stitches still in his eye, which will come out in a few months. But, he said, that will not deter him from making the most of his time with his family.

"Being a surgeon is a gift from God," said Dr Dekhain. "We need to keep reading, learning, and developing."

balqabbani@thenational.ae