Cornea replacement surgery helps deteriorating eyes - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Cornea replacement surgery helps deteriorating eyes

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Eyewitness News looks into latest procedure called "DMEK" surgery. (WFSB) Eyewitness News looks into latest procedure called "DMEK" surgery. (WFSB)

There’s a new corneal transplant surgery that’s starting to gain popularity amongst both doctors and patients in Connecticut.

Eyewitness News gets more insight into this latest procedure called "DMEK" surgery.

At 80 years old, Vincent Barbieri, of Naugatuck, said he didn't realize how bad his eyes were deteriorating.

“Every day, I knew TV got harder to watch that sort of thing,” Barbieri said. “But, I didn't know that was a problem for me.”  

After having cataract surgery on both his eyes, Barbieri's surgeon warned him that he had an uneven cornea, which may need to be replaced down the road.

“Sure enough a year after the cataracts surgery, things started getting gray again,” Barbieri said.

Barbieri said he knew it was time to look into his options.

“I knew what cornea replacement was, but Dr. Cervantes is talking about a new procedure,” Barbieri said.

A procedure called "DMEK" surgery.

Dr. Lorenzo Cervantes was one of the few doctors in Connecticut performing this latest cornea transplant surgery.

“Corneal swelling is the most common cause of needing a cornea transplant in the U.S. today,” Cervantes said.  

The most common cause of corneal swelling is contributed to either Fuch's Dystrophy, which is what Barbieri had, or multiple eye surgeries.

“Every time you have surgery done in the eye, there's invariably some damage done to the endothelium of the cornea, which is the back layer of the cornea,” Cervantes said.  

But, not everyone has enough endothelial cells to last them a lifetime.

“And the only way to get new cells when the cornea gets cloudy, is to give you more,” Cervantes said.  

During "DMEK" surgery, doctors are actually able to get more endothelial cells from a donor eye. A very small incision is then made through the side of the patient's cornea, so the doctor can get inside the eye, and from there, the back layer of the patient's cornea is peeled back, so doctors can implant a scroll of the donor's cells.

“The beauty is that the donor tissue is so thin, it's like trying to get wet tissue paper to stick to a surface,” Cervantes said. “It'll just lay out flat.”  

Only one stitch is placed in the eye and an hour after the surgery, patients are allowed to return home.

“The recovery time is over a few months,” Cervantes said. “The quality of vision is better, the refractive results after surgery is more predictable, the rejection rates are lower.”

“I not only didn't have any pain,” Barbieri said. “I didn't have even the slightest hint of pain for three days and when I did it, it wasn't really pain. It was just a little pressure.”

Barbieri said he was back to driving a week later.

“I'm back to seeing and doing things and going to meetings, and getting into everything I used to enjoy so much,” Barbieri said. “It has given me back a whole lot of future to live with.”

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