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Woman Gave Her Eye Tooth to See


Would you give your eyetooth to be able to see? That’s just what Sharron “Kay” Thornton, 60, who has been blind for nine years has done.

Corneal specialist Victor L. Perez, M.D., associate professor of ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, performed the procedure for Thornton which used her eyetooth as a base to hold a prosthetic lens placed in her eye.

The procedure is called a modified osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis (MOOKP). Thornton is the first patient to have this procedure in the United States. The MOOKP procedure was developed in Italy by Italian ophthalmologist Giancarlo Falcinelli, M.D.. It has proven effective as a solution to end-stage corneal disease where severe corneal scarring blocks vision and corneal transplants are no longer an option but the eye’s internal structures and optic nerve remain healthy.

Thornton lost her vision due to a complication of Stevens-Johnson syndrome in 2000.

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is a rare, serious disorder in which the skin and mucous membranes react severely to a medication or infection. Often SJS begins with flu-like symptoms, followed by a painful red or purplish rash that spreads and blisters, eventually causing the top layer of your skin to die and shed. In Thornton’s case, SJS destroyed the cells on the surface of the eye causing severe scarring of the cornea.

Dr. Perez’s and his interdisciplinary team extracted the Thornton’s canine or “eyetooth” and surrounding bone in the first stage of the MOOKP procedure. The tooth and surrounding bone were then shaved and sculpted. A hole was drilled in the eyetooth for the insertion of an optical cylinder lens.

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The next stage involves creating a bond of the tooth and lens as a bio-integrated unit. To do this, they are implanted under the patient’s skin in the cheek or shoulder.

While those stages are being done, the ophthalmologist prepares the surface of the eye for implantation of the prosthesis by removing scar tissue surrounding the damaged cornea.

About one month after placing the tooth/lens unit, mucosal tissue is collected from the inside of the patient’s cheek to cover and rehabilitate the surface of the damaged eye.

In the final phase, usually two months later, the prosthesis is removed from the cheek or shoulder and implanted in the eye. The prosthesis is carefully aligned with the center of the eye, and a hole is made in the mucosa for the prosthetic lens, which protrudes slightly from the eye and enables light to re-enter the eye allowing the patient to see once again.

For Thornton, her bandages from the last phase were removed on Labor Day weekend. She is reported to have been able to recognize faces only hours after her surgery. Two weeks following her surgery, she is already reading newsprint with a visual acuity of 20/70 and it is expected to improve further as her surgical scars heal.

Thornton is excited about seeing her three grown children and nine grandchildren – as well as rediscovering simple joys like watching clouds and playing cards again with friends. “Without sight, life is really hard. I’m hoping this surgery will help countless people,” she said.

Bascom Palmer Eye Institute