Iowa Lions Eye Bank Continues to restore sight in Swaziland

Dr. Alex Cohen and recipient
Iowa Lions Eye Bank Continues to restore sight in Swaziland
General News
Gift of Sight

In October 2018, Dr. Alex Cohen reached out to Iowa Lions Eye Bank to provide corneal tissue for three patients for his annual mission trip to Swaziland through The Luke Commission (TLC), an organization which delivers free compassionate and comprehensive healthcare to rural communities in Southern Africa. Iowa Lions Eye Bank has a long history of supplying tissue to Dr. Cohen in his quest to restore sight in this small African nation.

In 2014, Dr. Cohen was the first surgeon to operate with The Luke Commission, and performed the first Penetrating Keratoplasty (PKP) surgery in the country. Dr. Cohen introduced Dr. Matt Ward to The Luke Commission when they were both residents at the University of Iowa. Both Dr. Ward and Dr. Cohen travel annually to Swaziland.

During Dr. Ward’s first trip, he met Nhlakamipho Mncube. Nhlakamipho was just a teenager suffering from keratoconus, a thinning disorder of the cornea causing visual distortion. They were able to fit him with a rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lens that helped correct his vision, but over the years it did not fit well and he developed more scarring. Nhlakamipho would need a cornea transplant to correct his vision. 

On October 30, 2017, Dr. Ward, The Luke Commission, and Iowa Lions Eye Bank came together to give him the transplant he desperately needed. When Dr. Ward met with Nhlakamipho for his pre-operative screening, he examined his eyes and told him that he brought a cornea with him on the airplane for his transplant. Dr. Ward didn’t know that the TLC staff had not yet informed Nhlakamipho that they were planning to give him a transplant on this trip.

“He immediately burst into tears of joy and gave me a big hug. This was really an emotional moment – knowing that this young, active, healthy, bilaterally blind young man was about to see and have a new lease on life,” said Dr. Ward.

Almost one year to the day later, on October 29, 2018, Dr. Cohen was able to provide Nhlakamipho with a corneal transplant in his other eye, significantly improving his vision. “He is now a functional member of society, and obviously very happy,” said Dr. Cohen following the transplant surgery.

To show his gratitude, Nhlakamipho wrote a heartfelt letter to his donor family, sending his condolences for their loss and thanking them for the amazing gift of sight.

During this trip, Dr. Cohen also restored sight through corneal transplants to two patients aged 43 and 76 years of age.  Iowa Lions Eye Bank is proud to be part of this vision restoring tradition.