- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Being able to see the world with new eyes has become a reality for three local people thanks to recently receiving corneal transplants from a specialist in Berkeley County.

Dr. Sunil Thadani, who is an ophthalmologist with fellowship cornea training, travels from Frederick to Martinsburg every Wednesday to offer medical and surgical care for eye conditions, including corneal transplants, at Martinsburg Eye Associates located at 2002 Professional Court. Thadani completed his cornea fellowship six years ago, and he has performed many corneal transplants in Berkeley County since 2013.

Carol Rich, 58, of Kearneysville, was told she might lose the vision in her left eye if she did not receive a corneal transplant, and her eye doctor referred her to Thadani.

“I was really stunned, especially to open my eyes and realize what’s going on; I mean, you just can’t explain the feeling, it’s just amazing,” Rich said after she successfully received a corneal transplant in October of last year. “I wish I could talk to the (donor) family because my heart really goes out to them. I just wish I could do more for them.”

Rich had two diseases affecting her left eye at the same time-Fuchs’ dystrophy, which causes swelling and clouding of the cornea, and Keratoconus, which causes the cornea to bulge and distort its shape.

“As her family, seeing her go through that experience of not knowing the outcome, preparing for the worst, that was really haunting at times,” said Carol Rich’s daughter Pamela, 32. “To see her go through it and feel so helpless, it really does affect everyone around her. It’s really emotional.”

Eugene Fry, 72, of Falling Waters, has had corneal transplants in both his eyes because of degeneration coming with age. He first had a transplant done for his right eye about 12 years ago, and he received a corneal transplant in his left eye by Thadani about two and a half years ago.

“Driving at night was getting to be an issue (before the surgery). It was like looking through a cloudy shower door,” Fry said of his vision prior to the surgery. “The quality of life has gotten a lot better.”

Claude Roberts, 71, of Inwood, was also diagnosed with Fuchs’ dystrophy, and he’s dealt with astigmatism for years. Roberts received a corneal transplant in his right eye in September of last year.

“It gives me a new sense of life, knowing that I have part of somebody else in my body. To have a donor give (a body) so that someone else can have a better life, it makes me feel good about the human condition, about human beings,” Roberts said. “We have become too cold-hearted about other people, but when you have people who will do things like (organ donation), it’s a blessing.”

Roberts said he won’t drive when it’s dark outside around dusk or dawn, but he said his vision has greatly improved without complications due to the surgery.

Thadani said performing corneal transplants has been rewarding, and one of his main goals was to create a way for recipients to thank donor families.

“One of the things I got involved with early on was to try and set up a way to inform families who have lost loved ones that their family member was an organ donor and that the gift of sight was given to someone else,” Thadani said.

Recipients can write letters that Thadani will give back to the Eye Bank Association of America. The eye bank will then deliver the letter to the family of the donor.

“It’s a wonderful type of reciprocal experience because you have a patient who now, all of a sudden, can see better, and they’re able to help that family. I think it really makes the family feel better, too,” Thadani said.

More than 40,000 cornea transplants take place each year in the United States, according to the American Transplant Foundation.

“I was fascinated with the idea that one person could donate a portion of their body to help another person, and I thought it’s not only a noble cause to become involved with, but it’s also a way to provide some improvement to a person’s quality of life at an otherwise unfortunate time,” Thadani said.

Thadani said risks for corneal transplants include infection, inflammation, retinal detachment and rejection, but all those risks are very small.

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Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/

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