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Samuel Hames had an eye transplant with corneal material from a donor. Photo / Michael Craig
Samuel Hames’ eyesight was so poor he was given contact lenses at age 2.
Hames was born with congenital cataracts, and both of his eye lenses had to be taken out when he was a toddler.
“I lost my sight and had to wear contact lenses till the age of 13.
“You can imagine putting contacts on a 2-year-old,” he told the Herald.
In 2015, Hames’ received a corneal transplant, restoring vision in his right eye. Now, at 33, he is encouraging more people to donate the gift of sight.
“They took the corneal material from the donor’s eye and infused it into mine.
“It was a 23-week turnaround for me, it happened quite fast.
“I remember having to lie straight after the operation, not being able to turn for two days, staring at the ceiling so that the fusion could happen.”
It was a long 18-month healing period after that, Hames said. He had to be rigorous with his eye care and had a patch on for a few weeks.
“It’s not only the surgery, but it’s also how you care afterwards that works, and in my case, it was successful and the graft fused.”
Hames said he was very fortunate and lucky he had the transplant.
“I know of a lot of people in my generation who have gone through what I had as a little kid and unfortunately they have lost their sight.”
Hames regained 80 per cent of his vision after the transplant.
“For me having this transplant has been life-changing. It has given me a new lease on life – the total vision.
“I get far more range of vision and it has made my life easier.”
Hames would sometimes reflect on the fear of being blind, living in darkness compared to the light.
“I have been very lucky I will never have to go through that experience because of this procedure.
“They don’t reveal details of the donor but whoever donated to me, I want to tell them I am very thankful for this gift… the gift of sight.
“It is a great gift to give someone, it had led me to live a very fulfilling life.”
Hames encouraged more people to put their names forward for eye donation if they could.
“I know there are people who won’t have to lose sight if they are given the gift of vision by someone.
“To live in light over darkness is a lovely thing, and to the person who gave me sight, I am forever grateful to them.”
According to the Eye Bank, around 350 people require a corneal transplant each year in New Zealand. And without the surgery, many become blind or are severely vision-impaired.
A spokesperson said the number of eye donors in New Zealand was unfortunately very low, and they relied heavily on Australia for donations.
Between January and June last year, 50 per cent of eye donations came from overseas, 12 per cent from Auckland and 38 per cent from other parts of the country.
Eye Bank scientific director and chair of ophthalmology Professor Charles McGhee said the bank provided approximately eight corneas per week for the whole of New Zealand, to meet the annual demand for 350-400 transplants.
“However, presently the number of eye donors is extremely low and we all need to encourage greater awareness of eye donation in New Zealand.”
One eye donor could help up to 10 people, McGhee said.
“Ultimately, if it were not for the provision of tissue for corneal transplantation several thousand Kiwis would be blind.
“Therefore, if anyone is in doubt about the gift of donating their eyes after death, simply stated: your kind donation can make the blind see.”
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