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Pioneering surgery saves pensiioner's sight

A 70-YEAR-OLD man spoke yesterday of how his life had "changed completely" after a pioneering operation restored his sight when he faced the prospect of blindness.

John Barr, a retired dentist, had already lost all sight in his right eye and his left eye was failing so rapidly he could recognise people only when they were close up. After the operation on his left eye, he is riding a bicycle again and reading small print in newspapers.

Charities for the blind welcomed the news of the new operation but said they wanted to see full trials on the procedure to ascertain how successful it could be.

Surgeons at Royal Liverpool Hospital's St Paul's Eye Unit operated on Mr Barr, who lost the sight of his right eye seven years ago through macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in the Western world, affecting a million people in Britain, primarily the old. It is a condition in which the retina wears out over time, leaving sufferers with only peripheral vision.

Until now, the only treatment has been laser therapy but this cannot be used on most patients. "I'd had laser treatment but that had not worked and things were pretty bleak," Mr Barr said yesterday. "I jumped at the chance to be one of the first patients to try this operation."

The surgeons at the unit worked to transfer Mr Barr's vision from a worn part of the retina to a healthier area, thereby restoring his sight. "Put simply, it is like moving around a carpet which has a worn patch in it and tucking the worn part away," said David Wong, chief opthalmic surgeon. "I believe that this is the single most important surgical development for many years."

Mr Barr can now read a number plate at 25 yards. "In time, my vision may improve enough for me to drive again."

A spokesman for the Royal National Institute for the Blind said the news was "very exciting" but more work needed to be done. "We need to know how much vision it restores, whether it works in all cases or only for certain people. There are a lot of questions."