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Cape Town teen gets the gift of sight

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Two days ago, Riyaaz Carollisen’s eye sight was at only 10 percent and now a cornea donation may restore his eyesight within a couple of days.

The 15-year-old from Hanover Park and Grade 9 Batavia School of Skills pupil underwent cornea surgery on his right eye at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont on Tuesday night.

He had lost about 90 percent of his eyesight after being diagnosed with keratoconus, a progressive disease in which the round cornea thins and begins to bulge into a cone-like shape, causing distorted vision.

The transplant, which can cost up to R75 000 in the private healthcare sector as most corneas are imported from overseas, amounted to R45 000 as the donor was local

Riyaaz’s mother, Shaqeelah Carollisen, 43, who is a private carer in Clifton, had fundraised about R10 000 with the help of a jazz artist Johnathan Rubain.

When she found out on Monday that her son had received a donor and that the operation would be the next day, she had no choice but to seek help from her employer who had already paid for a prior surgery to the boy’s eye.

She received an additional R35 000 as a loan from her employer, Helet Merkling.

Carollisen found out about the cornea donation at work.

“I froze for some time because I was very nervous and happy at the same time, now my son will finally get to see the sun rise and set.”

Dr Mike Attenborough, an ophthalmologist and cornea specialist who had already operated on Riyaaz, said about 85 percent of corneas were sourced from the US.

“There is a struggle to get human tissue in South Africa, let alone a cornea because of various issues,” Attenborough said.

He added that cornea transplants had about 95 percent success rates and that Riyaaz would be able to see within a couple of days.

“He will have better vision within a few days.

“There are 16 stitches that hold the transplant in place and that will heal after a year, when the stitches have fallen out.

“Long term problems of such a transplant may include rejection of the eye, hence one has to have regular check-ups, about six to seven times a year.”

Riyaaz, who lives with his mother and grandmother, said he was emotional while waiting for the surgery.

“I am excited, but I am also nervous because the cross linking operation I had earlier was very painful.

“ And I do not know what to expect with this one,” he said.

Carollisen said she was still in need of funding in order to pay her employer.

She said she will also need to pay for her son’s contact lenses, which are expensive.

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