A tooth for an eye

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under VISION

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OPAn eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. That’s how it is usually said. But in the unusual case of Sharron Thornton, it’s actually an eye for a tooth. Or is it a tooth for an eye?

60-year Thornton has been blind for 9 years, according to this CNN report. She was so depressed due her helplessness and dependence on her daughter that she even considered committing suicide.

Fortunately, Thornton qualified to undergo a rather unusual procedure at the University of Miami Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. It entails implanting one of her tooth (the canine or cuspid) in one eye as a base to hold a prosthetic lens. The procedure takes months to complete and is still at the experimental stage. However, it was worth all the time and effort. Almost 2 weeks after her eye bandages were removed, Thornton’s visual acuity is 20/70 in the treated eye.

Thornton lost her sight in 2000 due to Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a condition defined as

“rare, serious disorder in which your skin and mucous membranes react severely to a medication or infection. Often, Stevens-Johnson syndrome begins with flu-like symptoms, followed by a painful red or purplish rash that spreads and blisters, eventually causing the top layer of your skin to die and shed.”

In Thornton’s case, the condition damaged also her hair, nails and the cells lining her eye surface.

The procedure is called modified osteo-odonto keratoprosthesis (MOOKP)and was the first of its kind ever performed in the US and has been only done about 600 times in other parts of the world mainly Asia and Europe. Here is how it is done:

To start the procedure, surgeons remove a healthy tooth and part of the patient’s jawbone… The tooth and bone were then shaved and sculpted, and a hole was drilled into them to hold the prosthetic lens. Then the whole unit was implanted into Thornton’s chest and left for several months, allowing the tooth and lens to bond. This was then implanted into her eye.

The procedure is very complicated and requires a team of dentists and ophthalmologists to perform. It is only applicable in cases where severe corneal scarring blocks vision, but the eye remains healthy and can see and localize light. It is usually indicated in the worst of cases of end-stage ocular surface disease where other options such as corneal transplant are not possible.

The surgeons gave Thornton a jaw implant to replace what was taken but it had to be removed due to an infection. They will try another implant later. However, losing a tooth and a part of the jawbone is a small price in exchange of an eye that can see, don’t you think?

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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