Man given his eyesight back through stem cell treatment 25 years after acid attack left him blind
James O'Brien has become the first patient to undergo a new life-changing eye surgery on the NHS
James O'Brien had his sight restored through a pioneering stem cell treatment

September 15th 2019

Click for photos:

https://inews.co.uk/news/health/man-...eft-him-blind/

A man has had his sight restored through a pioneering stem cell treatment 25 years after he lost it in an acid attack.

James O’Brien was blinded in his right eye at the age of 18 after he was sprayed with ammonia by a teenager in a random attack in south London.

Now 44, he has become the first patient to undergo a new life-changing eye surgery on the NHS, with doctors using stem cells from his healthy left eye to grow tissue in a lab and restore his sight.

Mr O’Brien said: “Being able to see through both eyes after all these years means the world to me.”

Groundbreaking surgery
In a procedure last year, surgeons at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London cut the scar tissue from James’ right eye and replaced it with the lab-grown cells.

In June, after giving the eye tissue time to heal, doctors then gave Mr O’Brien a cornea from a deceased donor to complete the process and restore his sight.

Mr O’Brien said: “It’s the little things I’ve appreciated the most, like being able to see my wife and children clearly for the first time.

“It’s fantastic and has definitely improved my quality of life… there were times before when children would look at my eye and recoil in horror.

“It’s nice for that not to be an issue anymore.”

Horrifying attack
The acid attack happened in the Sutton area of London in the 1990s, when Mr O’Brien and a friend were set upon by two teenagers, who sprayed ammonia into his face.

He recalled: “It felt like my face was on fire, I thought I was going to die. The pain was really intense.”

Acid ended up in both of James’ eyes, his nostrils and his mouth.

Luckily a passer-by rushed over and used water to wash some of the ammonia away, which may have saved Mr O’Brien’s left eye.

He added: “It was a traumatic thing to go through, particularly at such a young age… I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Huge impact
The pioneering procedure was performed on the NHS by consultant ophthalmic surgeon Dr Sajjad Ahmad, and cost a total of Ł92,000.

Dr Ahmad said: “James – in a crude sort of way – kindly accepted to be the guinea pig for this treatment.

“Because of what he’s done, it will now enable us to offer it to everyone who needs it.

“This is going to have a huge impact. A lot of these patients are young men so it affects their work, their lives, those around them.”

Dr Ahmad said he sees a number of acid attack victims every week, and hopes to develop the procedure for patients blinded by acid in both eyes, as well as for people with degenerative eye conditions.