x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Sight restored for Ajman boy blinded in one eye in hand sanitiser accident

Despite being fears he would never see out of his left eye again, Yousef ben Lafi is on the road to a full recovery after stem cells began to regenerate

Yousef ben Lafi, whose left eye was damaged by hand sanitiser that spurted out of a dispenser in a hospital, has surprised doctors with a remarkable recovery, thanks to regenerating stem cells. Pawan Singh / The National
Yousef ben Lafi, whose left eye was damaged by hand sanitiser that spurted out of a dispenser in a hospital, has surprised doctors with a remarkable recovery, thanks to regenerating stem cells. Pawan Singh / The National

AJMAN // A seven-year-old boy blinded in one eye by hand sanitiser from a dispenser in a hospital corridor has amazed doctors by regaining his vision.

Despite fears he would never see out of his left eye again, Yousef ben Lafi is on the road to a full recovery after stem cells began to regenerate.

He has even been able to return to school after a two-month break with his family in Tunisia following the incident in June at GMC hospital.

“First I could see everything only white; I could only see some light when I turned my head straight up,” said Yousef. “Now I can see but sometimes things are not clear; sometimes my eye hurts. Still I’m happy, I can play with my friends.”

The incident happened when Yousef was at the hospital with his mother to treat a cough. Staff initially said the youngster needed to undergo a stem cell transplant to repair the eye after a ophthalmology report stated Yousef had “lost all his limbal stem cells” and had “total loss of corneal epithelium of left eye”.

However, during follow-up examinations two weeks later, doctors spotted the growth of a few stem cells.

“Sometimes in the first two weeks I was hopeless because I could see the cornea was bare and there was nothing and the child was in agony and crying from pain,” recalled Dr Salwa Abdul Razak, the ophthalmologist who treated the youngster at GMC.

“There was charring, all the tissue and the vessels were gone and the eye was porcelain white and the corneal epithelium was gone. But then a small number of four to five stem cells began growing and the growth reached about half the cornea.

“After this, I told the mother we will not need to go for transplantation because we were in a good situation.”

Although Yousef started to slowly regain his sight in July, staff at the hospital, as well as his family, wanted to be sure of his recovery before making the news public. Doctors now say his vision will gradually improve.

However, Yousef sometimes complains of blurred vision and sees colour differently with each eye. The schoolboy has also been prescribed glasses for myopia and will begin wearing them later this week.

“When I see with this eye, I see my mother the same colour as my hand,” he said pointing to his right eye. “But when I see with this eye [left] I see my mother black; I see the TV also dark.”

His father Hisham, an account executive at a Dubai food distribution company, remained anxious.

“I was the happiest man in the world when my son could see again but I worry about his future,” said Mr ben Lafi. “We don’t know if he needs glasses because of the injury or he would have needed glasses anyway.”

Seham Soule, Yousef’s mother, said: “I cried when Dr Salwa said it was a miracle from god that my son’s cells have grown and we will not need transplant treatment.

“Still a day does not pass without us worrying because the eye is so important.”

Yousef will need to have follow-up examinations to check for dry eyes and other issues, said Dr Darakhshanda Khurram, consultant paediatric ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

“Chemical injury can cause stem cells deficiency of varying degree,” she said

“Depending on the severity, the limbal stem cells population can be partially or completely depleted. This can cause corneal surface abnormalities.

“Full recovery has been seen in cases where limbal stem cells are partially destroyed, but long term follow-up is required as recurring epithelial defects, growth of abnormal vessels and cloudy cornea due to impaired healing can lead to visual regression.”

Other specialists too advised frequent examination.

“At the time of injury what could be presumed as total loss may not be so because the cells are microscopic and these may have started regenerating,” explained Dr Anupama Rao, a consultant ophthalmologist at City Hospital.

rtalwar@thenational.ae