WATCH | 3-year-old Durban girl inserts her own prosthetic eye

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Three-year-old Lily Bowes is finally comfortable with inserting her prosthetic eye. (Photo: Supplied)
Three-year-old Lily Bowes is finally comfortable with inserting her prosthetic eye. (Photo: Supplied)

Parents often celebrate their child’s first milestones, whether it be that first step or first word. The Bowes family, however, had a rather different milestone to celebrate recently – and it’s enough to tug at all the heartstrings.

Late one night in April, three-year-old Lily Bowes, who lives in Musgrave in Durban, decided to insert her own prosthetic eye. The toddler was born with persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous (PHPV), a rare eye condition that can lead to glaucoma and a shrunken eye.

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Lily’s mom, Sheri-Leigh Baillache-Bowes (31), tells us how her little girl wasn’t interested in going to sleep that night. Instead, she informed her mother, she wanted to have a go at inserting her prosthetic eye herself.

“She had it in her hand and she said, ‘Oh, I’m going to put it in’. And she did it! Everyone else was asleep so I had to keep the excitement to myself.”

The toddler, who was due to celebrate her third birthday a week later, had tried to insert her eye before but it’s a tricky job and she ended up giving up. That night, however, she was ready to give it another go.

Sheri-Leigh was able to capture the moment on video and says she and husband, Linden (34), will cherish it for the rest of their lives.  

Life hasn’t been easy for their precious little girl. Lily was a day old when Sheri-Leigh noticed what she describes as a white mass in Lily’s iris while she was feeding her.

Lily needed surgery to remove the mass but the first op didn’t go well and her retina tore. She has had at least nine other procedures, including six examinations under anaesthesia to assess the eye as doctors were trying to rule out cancer and blindness. Lily was eventually diagnosed with PHPV.

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Baby Lily without her prosthetic eye. (Photo: Supplied)

Another procedure had to be performed because her eye started to shrink significantly, Sheri-Leigh says.

“Unfortunately prosthetic intervention had to take place otherwise her eye and her socket wouldn’t grow at the same pace as her left,” Sheri-Leigh explains.

After seeking advice from specialists, the Bowes made the decision that their daughter should wear a prosthetic eye covering. Because her eye has shrunk to such an extent, the prosthetic eye would fit over the existing eye and stop the eye socket from shrinking.

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Daniel, Linden, and Sheri-Leigh could not be more prouder of Lily's accomplishment. (Photo: Supplied)

Although the parents had the option of having the eye removed, they decided against it in the hope that a medical breakthrough will occur one day and her eye can be corrected.

“We started off with a conformer to expand the socket in preparation for the prosthetic,” Sheri-Leigh says. “It’s a transparent shell that looks like a very hard contact lens. We put it into her eye and she didn’t tolerate it.

“My husband would hold her down, my gran would hold her head in place, and then I would insert the conformer. Can you imagine your baby is crying non-stop? All you want to do is take this thing out.”

Lily was just eight months old when she started wearing her first prosthetic eye, her mom says, which fits over her existing eye. Lily is still able to see with her right eye, but she struggles at times.

“She battles with depth perception and has trouble sometimes judging where objects are. She might hit her head against a table not knowing how close it is,” dad Linden says.

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Daniel (5) is very protective of his little sister. (Photo: Supplied)

Little Lily has grown used to her prosthetic eye, her parents say, and after her first successful attempt inserts it herself all the time now.

“I feel like we’ve accomplished so much with her over the past three years,” Linden says.

“Now that we know she’s 100% fine to put in her own eye without us around, it just gives us that comfort that she is going to have an absolutely normal life. She will be more independent,” Sheri-Leigh says. 

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Lily is a happy, confident child who enjoys spending time with her big brother, Daniel (5), her mom adds.

“When she looks in the mirror, she doesn’t see anything wrong with herself and that is exactly what I want,” Sheri-Leigh says. “I tell her all the time how gorgeous and beautiful she is and so does everyone else.”


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