The transplants have enabled Graham and me to do all these amazing things together, which would not have been possible without transplants.
We have never been held back.
Graham and Annie's story
When Graham was 16, he and his friends decided to join the Navy. However, after passing the exams, he was called back in and told that he couldn’t join up because his eyesight was so impaired without his glasses. Unbeknownst to him, he had a condition called keratoconus which affects your cornea (the clear dome-shaped window at the front of your eye which focusses light on to your retina). With keratoconus, the cornea bulges outwards in an irregular cone shape, making vision blurry and distorted.
Within 18 months Graham had been referred to Bristol Eye Hospital and put on a waiting list for a corneal transplant. The techniques used at the time meant that corneas could be stored only for a very limited time, and so you could not plan when your corneal transplant surgery would take place.
On 23rd April 1978 at 9am, Graham received a call at work from Bristol Eye Hospital that they had a cornea for him, and he would need to come in and have the transplant immediately. Graham had the transplant that day as an emergency surgery. He then had to stay in hospital for two weeks and be off work for two months.
Graham also had to wear a scleral lens to help correct his vision. Scleral lenses are large rigid gas permeable contact lenses specially designed to vault over the irregularly shaped cornea and rest on the sclera (the white part of the eye). For this he had to travel to Oxford every few months. Fortunately, Graham’s wife, Annie, loves Oxford and her favourite Thai restaurant is there, so she would usually try and organise an afternoon appointment so they would have to stay the night and go out for dinner!
In 1997 Graham needed a second partial corneal transplant, but his experience this time was very different.
During the late 1980s, thanks to research funded by Sight Research UK, researchers had developed the necessary tissue conservation techniques to allow corneal tissue to be stored for up to 28 days, allowing the UK’s first Corneal Transplant Service (CTS) to be created with the CTS Bristol Eye Bank. This advancement transformed the logistics of corneal transplants around the UK, allowing operations to be planned weeks in advance rather than as emergency surgeries.
Thanks to this advancement, Graham was able to plan around this surgery making sure he was prepared and that he could book time off afterwards to recover.
Annie was the Admissions Manager at Bristol Eye Hospital from 1984 to 1997 (they didn’t meet at the hospital, but what a story that would have been!). She saw the difference the CTS Bristol Eye Bank made first-hand as well. She says, ‘It was better for the surgeons, better for the patients, better for the hospital, and better, from my point of view, for planning the beds…Eye banks have revolutionised transplant surgery.’
In 2019, Graham was diagnosed with a cataract and his cornea, which had been replaced in 1978, needed replacing again.
Graham’s third transplant operation took place on Valentine’s Day 2019, which Annie thinks was a ‘bit excessive’ to get out of going out for dinner and having to buy flowers! This time he was able to plan four months in advance, only had to stay in hospital overnight, and could return to work after two weeks.
Once the transplant had healed, he was able to have his cataract removed. This procedure was booked for October 2020, and Graham had to have a COVID-19 test 2 weeks before and then isolate. Unfortunately, the COVID test happened to be on Annie’s birthday and her birthday meal at a Thai restaurant in Keynsham had to be cancelled!
Thanks to the corneal transplants, cataract surgery and scleral lenses, Graham’s vision has been preserved and he has been able to continue driving, playing squash, football, cricket and golf. He and Annie have travelled the world, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, walking on the Great Wall of China and driving Route 66 from Chicago to LA.
They also allowed him to continue working as a Paediatric Nursing Assistant at Bristol Children’s Hospital, a job which he loved, and for which he won a ‘Best Nursing Assistant of the Year’ award from across the whole of the University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust.
Graham and Annie are both very grateful for research which allowed the transformation of corneal transplant surgery over the last 40 years. They will also always be grateful to all the organ donors and their families who have made an incredibly brave choice at a very difficult time.
Graham is now retired, and he and Annie can catch up on all their missed Thai meals!
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