Things are looking up for Nikhil after corneal transplant

2011-03-29 00:00

“WITHOUT contact lenses, I’d walk into a wall.”

This was Nikhil Dhindayal’s daily life until a few days ago, when he received a corneal transplant. He waited a year for a donor organ and his transplant operation.

The 23-year-old Howick resident first started noticing symptoms of keratoconus, degeneration of the structure of the cornea, in 2006 when he was working in London. According to the Ophthalmological Society of South Africa, the condition occurs when the “cornea develops an abnormal curvature that makes normal vision impossible”.

As Dhindayal explains , the cornea, or the thin, clear layer at the front of the eye, is usually round, like a soccer ball. But with keratoconus, the cornea thins and becomes oval shaped, like a rugby ball.

When all other treatments were exhausted, Dhindayal had to have a transplant of the cornea. According to Dr Ed Anderson, Dhindayal’s doctor, keratoconus is quite common, affecting one in every 2 000 people. That means that in every second high school, an adolescent will have the condition.

However, only about 20% of patients with keratoconus need surgery, and there are other treatments, such as contact lenses and a procedure called “corneal collagen crosslinking”.

If the patient, as in Dhindayal’s case, is not eligible for other treatments, the patient needs to have a donated organ transplanted. This meant that Dhindayal had to put his name on a list and wait for a suitable cornea to become available.

In South Africa alone, almost 350 people, 16 of them children, received cornea transplants in 2009, according to the Organ Donor Foundation.

Dhindayal says he had been waiting so long he had almost forgotten about the possible transplant.

“When I heard [that there was a donor organ], I was shocked,” says Dhindayal, “My mom called and she was crying. I thought someone had died.”

His mother, Neesha Dhindayal, said, “We were ecstatic. It was beyond comprehension that we had got that call.”

Dhindayal is already showing signs of improved vision after his surgery on March 22.

The donated cornea, received a few weeks before his 24th birthday, is the “best birthday gift ever,” he says.

After the year’s wait, the Dhindayal family want to urge readers to become organ donors.Neesha Dhindayal says: “Words cannot express the value of such a precious gift. The pure joy of Nikhil regaining his vision will be a constant reminder of the donor’s sacrifice. We will always be grateful.”

Anderson says there is a shortage of donors in South Africa, and often patients who do not apply to international lists can wait for up to four years for an organ.

In order to become an organ donor, visit the Organ Donor Foundation website at www.odf.org.za or call 0800 22 66 11.

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