Kevin Halliwell, 67, underwent a cornea transplant in November 2017 and then again in April 2019 at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh, thanks to the decision made by two different donors and their families.
Mr Halliwell was diagnosed with Fuchs’ Dystrophy after a cataract operation in 2016 exacerbated his condition.
The cloudiness he was experiencing became extreme, and following his diagnosis, he was put on the waiting list for a cornea transplant.
He has shared how the surgery has transformed his life to encourage people to think about tissue donation, and make their donation decision known.
In Scotland, there is a significant clinical need for corneal transplants that is larger than the number of eye donations.
In 2019/20, there were 281 corneal transplants carried out on patients living in Scotland, but only 46 donors in Scotland donated their eyes that year.
Scotland moved to an opt out system of organ and tissue donation in March 2021, and eye donation falls under this system.
The opt out law means that if people aged 16 and over haven’t opted out of donation, they will be considered a possible donor if they die in circumstances in which donation would be possible.
Under the opt out system everyone has a choice – to be a donor, or to opt out of donation – but it’s important to make that decision known to loved ones.
If people choose to do nothing, it will be assumed they have agreed to donate certain organs and tissue for transplantation, unless they’re in a group for whom the law doesn’t apply.
Mr Halliwell said: “After being diagnosed, things got really difficult. Everything was hazy and cloudy, and not being able to see detail or sharp edges completely limited what I was able to do. I had to stop driving, it was difficult to go out at night because of the glare from lights, and I could only read with a magnifying glass in the end. I’m a keen artist, and that all had to stop.
“I managed to get by, especially with the new technology around these days, but my quality of life dipped hugely.
“The first corneal transplant operation changed everything. I honestly feel like I have better vision than I did before the surgery. The vision was so good in that eye after the transplant, I could start doing everything again pretty instantly.
“My second surgery involved a slightly different procedure, due to the fact it was a different donor, and although my vision from that eye isn’t quite as sharp, the overall effect has been absolutely amazing.
“I’m back doing tapestry weaving, drawing and driving. My life has been transformed.”
Speaking about the gift he’s been given, Mr Halliwell said: “I’d never even heard about cornea donation until my diagnosis. I just think it’s wonderfully courageous of those who made the decision to donate – it’s such a huge gift.
“My life has been transformed by what those people did for me, and I’m also indebted to the wonderful NHS surgeons whose care and skill transformed my life. I’ll always be extremely grateful.”