A British man has regained a portion of his eyesight thanks to one of his teeth.
That’s not a typo. One of Ian Tibbetts’ teeth was extracted, implanted with a lens and then put into his eye, giving him a percentage of his sight back and letting him see his 4-year-old twin sons for the first time.
According to the U.K. Independent, Tibbetts underwent osteo-odonto-keratoprothsesis (OOKP) surgery, which surgeon Christopher Liu only performs on five patients each year. Liu, a professor at Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton, is working to teach other surgeons about the novel procedure for patients with irreversible corneal scarring.
Tibbetts lost his eyesight in one eye and then the other in an accident and through subsequent infections starting in 2002.
“I would do anything to get some sight back. I had to try something. I said anything is better than what it was,” Tibbett said, according to the Independent.
Eventually, Tibbett heard of the OOKP and had the procedure in December 2012.
While the surgery is rare and sounds strange, it’s not exactly new. According to an ABC News story a few years ago about a woman who underwent the procedure, the method was developed in the 1960s, perfected by Giancarlo Falcinelli, and has been gaining steam since.
The surgery involves removing a tooth and some bone from the patient’s mouth, shaping it and embedding a lens through it. The tooth-lens combo is then implanted. Here’s more from the Independent on that process:
This is then inserted in a pouch cut in the flesh under the non-operative eye, while a flap of skin is removed from the inside of the cheek and stitched on to the front of the eye due to receive the tooth.
Four months later, when the tooth has developed a blood supply, another operation is carried out to remove part of the cornea, the iris and the vitreous (the gel inside the eye), while the tooth and bone lamina is then cut out of the pouch and stitched into the eye socket, where it is covered by the piece of cheek skin.
“The technical success rate is close to 100 per cent. The number of people who will see well for a very long time is two-thirds to three-quarters. If I am a bit more pessimistic I will say half to two-thirds. But for the majority of people it will work,” says Professor Liu.
This animated feature shows how the procedure is performed:
But Tibbetts wasn’t immediately in this majority. He said when his bandages were removed he “went right on a downer.”
But after a few weeks, that changed.
The Daily Telegraph reported Tibbetts’ thoughts after he saw his sons for the first time:
“I have my independence back now and I can start looking after the kids while my wife is out at work. Before, the kids were just shapes. I couldn’t make them out.
“I had to actually learn to tell them apart by their voices. I could tell whichever one it was by the way they spoke and sometimes by how quickly they moved.
“I had a picture in my head of what they looked like but they were better. I’m a bit biased there.
“The image in my mind was totally different to how they were – the features. I gave them a big hug and a kiss.
BBC is featuring Tibbetts and the surgery in a feature called ” The Day I Got My Sight Back” Tuesday.
Watch this promo for the show: