After 16 years of near-blindness, Ian Tibbetts, 43, finally saw the faces of his 4-year-old twin boys when an unusual surgical procedure restored his sight. If that is not remarkable enough, consider this: the surgeon reconstructed the happy father's eye by using one of his teeth.
"Before, the kids were just shapes. I couldn’t make them out,” Tibbetts, who lives in Shropshire, England, told the Daily Mail. “I had to actually learn to tell them apart by their voices. I could tell whichever one it was by the way they spoke and sometimes by how quickly they moved.”
Tibbetts, a former forklift truck driver, lost most of his sight over the course of two years beginning 16 years ago. First, he damaged his right eye when he was struck by a piece of metal from an oven. The accident ripped his cornea in six places, and though the wound healed, he soon lost all sight in that eye. One year later, the father of two lost nearly all the remaining vision in his left eye. In December of last year, Tibbetts agreed to have the strange and unusual surgery on his left eye after all other treatments failed, he told the Daily Mail.
Osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis (OOKP) surgery is a technique used to replace damaged corneae in blind patients. Developed in 1963 by an Italian ophthalmic surgeon, Benedetto Strampelli, the procedure uses the patient’s own tooth root and alveolar bone to support an optical cylinder. The surgery is a complex, two-part process that requires insertion of a plastic lens into a hole made in the tooth. OOKP only works in cases where a patient has a functioning retina. The newly fabricated lens is implanted in the eye, which does not reject the transplant because it is made out of material from the patient’s own body.
Only one surgeon, Christopher Liu at the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton, currently performs this complicated operation in the United Kingdom. Although the procedure has been performed in Japan and Europe, it has been rarely utilized in the United States as it is suitable for some but not all types of vision loss. The surgical fix is long-term but not permanent in many instances, as is the case with Tibbetts.
Since the operation, Tibbetts has regained 40 percent vision and now enjoys gazing at the faces of his two boys. Because the effects of the procedure may not last forever, he tries to appreciate the gift of sight while it lasts.
“I had a picture in my head of what they looked like but they were better,” Tibbetts told the Daily Mail. “I’m a bit biased there.”