Meet the patients: Sidney Clement

Sidney ClementIt will be an extra special Christmas for Sidney Clement this year after being given the greatest present of all – the gift of sight.

The 91-year-old grandad from Waterlooville, Hampshire, lost his sight three years ago and had come to terms with the fact he was no longer able to read to children at the local school, recite his favourite poetry or watch the football scores come in.

Poor surgery to correct cataracts more than 40 years ago, combined with the onset of slow-progressing glaucoma, had worn his eyesight down to such an extent specialists informed him it was unlikely the damage could be reversed. With no sight in his left eye and very limited vision in his right he was handed a white stick.

“I could no longer see my daughter and had to stop doing all the things I enjoyed – I couldn’t even read to children at the local school anymore and had to give up on my plans to learn how to use a computer,” explained Sidney.

“As a man in his 90s, I never saw a way back from this and, having already had surgery once before, I assumed I’d have to live like it for the rest of my life and miss out on special occasions like Christmas.”

Determined to fight for the little sight left in his right eye, the former author and avid reader visited a local optician in 2008 who referred him to Portsmouth’s Queen Alexandra Hospital.

He said: “The optician only referred me to a specialist because there was nothing they could say or do, so I believed they sent me on purely for that reason, not because they thought anything could be done to improve my situation.”

However, due to the concerning severity of his eye health, staff at the QA sent him on to consultant ophthalmologists Parwez Hossain and David Anderson at Southampton General Hospital’s eye unit.

“Sidney’s eyes were in an extremely poor condition – the minimal sight remaining in his right eye was not enough to see his hand in front of his face – and it looked as though the damage to his left eye was irreparable,” said Mr Hossain, a senior lecturer at the University of Southampton.

“But, despite the slim chance of success, I felt we could attempt an advanced technique we normally use to treat a different, specific condition as it entails replacing the surface of the eye – the area where Sidney’s eyes were most affected.”

Mr Hossain suggested a procedure known as Descemet’s Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSEK), where the top layer of the eye is removed and replaced with a thin slice – 0.15 millimetres – of donor tissue through one small incision to minimise disruption to the rest of the eye.

Although commonly used to treat Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy, where cells in the cornea deteriorate and cause swelling and blurred vision, he believed the procedure gave them an outside chance of returning some level of eyesight and operated on the blind eye in August last year.

The result shocked everyone, as Sidney regained some vision within hours.

“I saw a real difference in dad,” said Sidney’s daughter, Sue. “Apart from the obvious – he stopped bumping into things and falling over – I noticed a confidence I hadn’t seen in a long time.”

“I never expected it to make such a difference, especially at dad’s age, and we are so grateful to Mr Hossain for turning dad’s life around.”

Following the initial success, Sidney’s right eye was operated on using the same method later in the year and he is now making excellent progress.

Mr Hossain added: “This is a man who was condemned to believing nothing further could be done to restore his eyesight but has been given the chance to do the things he wants to do once again – it really is remarkable his sight has been restored to a reasonable level at his age and I am delighted for him and his family.”

After throwing out the white stick, Sidney now plays an active role at his local Age UK club twice a week and is back reading novels and watching his favourite TV shows – and is also learning how to use a computer to develop his interest in genealogy.

He said: “I’ve thrown the white stick away and am looking forward to all the Christmas parties this year - the only disappointment is that now all the ladies I thought looked good for their age suddenly have a few more wrinkles!”

Sidney’s procedure was only made possible through the donation of corneal tissue. Since being awarded retrieval centre status in 2009 – one of only ten in the country – donation at the Trust has increased by 600% in just two years and the wait for a transplant has been cut from two years in 2008 to three months in 2011. Sidney said: “Someone’s donation has enabled me to see again at 91-years-old and I am so grateful for that – it is truly humbling."

First published in Connect issue 29.