I will be eternally grateful to an unknown donor family who has lost so much but has enabled me to gain sight. I will forever have their loved one with me.
When Rochelle Hedley hears in the news that a child has been attacked by a dog, she hates the fact it has happened again. "My heart goes out to the family," Rochelle says.
When she was five-years-old Rochelle was attacked by a dog. "Thankfully the trauma has triggered memory loss of the incident – it is not something I wish to remember."
Rochelle was checked out immediately after the attack by an emergency doctor as the small gash near her left eye made her mother very nervous.
A week later at school Rochelle's vision suddenly went blurry and she was sent to a specialist in Dunedin who found she had lost most of the sight in her eye and diagnosed her with metaherpetic keratitis (scarring on the central part of the cornea).
"Compared to recent dog attacks, I am incredibly lucky as mine was limited to my face and I have walked away with only a couple of scars – unfortunately the hidden one did the most damage."
Rochelle's childhood was full of regular visits to see her ophthalmologist at Dunedin Hospital which was over a two hour drive away from her home. "I remember these as long and arduous – sometimes two hours in the waiting room…Mum would knit and I would get bored. Throughout the years the medication dosage changed, but the lack of sight remained constant."
"Living with one eye has certainly had its challenges, the biggest loss being peripheral vision. I appeared clumsy and bruised, often walking into things on my left-hand side as I couldn't judge distance as precisely as on my right. Sliding doors that opened from the right-hand side fooled me as I would think it was open based on my right eye, only to smack straight into it on my left."
When Rochelle was in her early twenties she became short sighted in her right eye and realised she couldn't rely on one eye doing all the work. It was then she started being considered for a corneal transplant. In 2008 she had a consultation with Dr Sue Ormonde at Auckland Eye and learnt it would be an 18-24 month healing process after the surgery and the sight would never be as good as in her right eye. Rochelle went on the waiting list and was fortunate to receive the eye tissue she needed after six months.
Rochelle said she was extremely nervous on the day of the transplant and was relieved when the operation was over.
"Everyone at Auckland Eye was amazing, they looked after me so well. The next morning I was shown an enlarged view of my eye on the computer with multiple stitches holding my new cornea in place – it was unbelievable as the stitches used were one third of the thickness of a human hair."
Two weeks after the transplant, Rochelle was able to go back to work.
"I remember the first eye test. I was so excited I could read the first three lines on the chart (previously I couldn't read the first line), then slowly over the months my vision improved. After 18 months the stitches came out and I started to work with my optometrist to fit a contact lens to improve my new vision which was short sighted."
"The corneal graft literally changed my outlook on life. My vision in my left eye may not be perfect, but it now provides me with the ability to see peripherally. Walking into items is a thing of the past. Everything appears crisper and clearer and I will be eternally grateful to an unknown donor family who has lost so much but has enabled me to gain sight. I will forever have their loved one with me.
"I hope someday I have the opportunity to pay it forward and change a life. Maybe one day my right eye will enable someone else to see again."
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