He had learned to live with sight in just one eye after waking up one morning with a detached retina. But when George Heald developed a cataract in his “seeing eye” at the age of 87, he was told surgery would be too risky and he was going to go blind. His wife of 60 years, Eileen, has a serious back problem and Mr Heald faced a bleak future. His independence was under threat because losing his sight meant he would no longer be able to drive or take his wife out.
Now, Mr Heald is back behind the wheel and living life to the full after Milind Pande, the internationally renowned eye surgeon at the Vision Surgery and Research Centre in East Yorkshire, removed the cataract and corrected the sight in his left eye.
Mr Heald said: “I was scared to death when I went to see Mr Pande because I was so worried about going blind. When he told me he could help me, I burst into tears. I even hugged him, I was so relieved. After the operation, all of a sudden, I could see for miles and miles. It was like all my birthdays and Christmases had come at once.”
Mr Heald, who lives in Bilton, East Yorkshire, and has two children and four grandchildren, underwent two operations four years ago after suffering a detached retina in his right eye. Both were unsuccessful and he was left almost blind in that eye. A routine eye test last year showed the sight in his left eye was also deteriorating and he had developed a cataract, formed in the crystalline lens inside the eye, an inevitable part of ageing for most people.
Mr Heald said: “It was like when your glasses steam up and you can’t see out of them until it clears. But the fogginess never cleared. It just got worse and worse.”
A friend recommended Mr Heald contacted Mr Pande and his team, based at Spire Hesslewood clinic in Hessle. After a thorough consultation, Mr Pande carried out Advanced Refractive Cataract Surgery in October to replace the damaged crystalline lens. With an array of replacement lenses available to tailor treatment to every patient, Mr Pande was able to select the perfect lens for Mr Heald to not only remove the cataract but give him the best possible vision without glasses in his left eye.
Mr Pande, who has more than 30 years’ clinical and surgical experience, said the crystalline lens works like a camera zoom lens inside the eye but becomes cloudy as people grow older. “Almost everyone gets a cataract,” he said. “It is only a matter of time. We removed and replaced the crystalline lens but, in Advanced Refractive Cataract Surgery, we can also work out all the focusing changes we need to make to get patients better vision at the same time.
“As well as implanting a new lens in Mr Heald’s eye, we were able to correct some astigmatism and it worked very well. Now, his vision is good enough for him to legally (and safely!) drive a car without glasses.”
Mr Heald said the pain-free operation to remove the cataract took only 20 minutes and he was back home after spending just eight hours in the hospital. Four days later, his vision in his left eye was crystal clear and he only requires glasses for reading. Now, he is able to enjoy his hobby of woodturning and is back playing his keyboard, reading sheet music once more. He can take his wife out in the car and watch his grandchildren grow up.
Mr Heald said: “I would say to anyone facing this that they are bound to be worried because I was frightened to death. But Mr Pande and his team put me at ease. They were just marvellous. If I had to do it all again, I would, without hesitation. Mr Pande gave me back my life.”
Mr Pande, a past president of the United Kingdom and Ireland Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons, said it was understandable people for people to feel anxious when they develop a cataract, particularly if the vision in their other eye is already weak. “It’s very special to be able to help patients like Mr Heald because it has such a positive impact on their lives.”
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