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13 September 2018

Transplant saves young woman's sight from rare infection

A young woman from Bristol has undergone a full thickness cornea transplant at the Bristol Eye Hospital, after contracting a rare infection in her eye from wearing contact lenses in water.

Natalie Rance, aged 24, has thanked staff at the Bristol Eye Hospital for giving her a second chance to see after she contracted Acanthamoeba keratitis(AK). The organism is commonly found in water; including open water, domestic tap water and some swimming pools, with 80 per cent of cases occurring in contact lens wearers.Natalie Rance 3

"I believe I contracted the infection when I was training for a new job to become cabin crew, simulating a plane ditching in a swimming pool whilst wearing my lenses", says Natalie. "It wasn't until I began to experience the rapid effects of the symptoms that I learnt aboutthe risks associated with wearing my lenses in water.

"I've worn contact lenses from the age of 11 years, and have taken good care of my eyes. I was advised to clean them in solution after wearing them swimming and vaguely remember being told about something that lived in water. However, I was naïve to presume this was a condition caused by dirty water or tropical climates, not something that could be found in tap water or swimming pools which we all presume are safe."

Bristol Eye Hospital has a regional specialist corneal service that manages severe corneal infections, including cases of acanthamoeba. In the last four years they have seen an increase in the number of acanthamoeba infections. A similar trend has also been reported across the country. 

Mr. Kieren Darcy, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Bristol Eye Hospital, said: "Thankfully cases as severe as Natalie's are still relatively rare. However, her case really highlights the importance of people avoiding any water contact with their contact lenses.

"Natalie required an emergency full thickness (PK) cornea transplant here at the Bristol Eye Hospital, in an attempt to save her eye. In severe cases the inside of the eye can also unfortunately become affected and so she also required aspiration (removal) of her natural crystalline lens. Her iris (the coloured part of the eye) was also affected.  The next stage will be to insert a special lens into her eye to replace the one we had to remove and also insertion of an artificial iris so that we can give her the very best chance of seeing clearly through the eye again.

"We are very fortunate at the Bristol Eye Hospital to be able to help patients like Natalie, to save their sight. We perform over 200 corneal transplants per annum. None of this would be possible without organ and tissue donation, something we value very much."

In the final months of her Master's degree, in Wildlife Filmmaking at UWE Bristol, Natalie is producing a short documentary in order to raise awareness of AK, the impact of sight loss due to AK and the importance of organ and tissue donation.

"My film, Second Sight, will be shown to industry experts this coming November", says Natalie. "I hope by sharing my journey, including a visit to the Isles of Scilly to confront the water once more in order to swim with a local colony of grey seals, will give viewers an understanding of what it is like to suffer sight loss and receive a donated organ.

"I am extremely grateful for the medical treatment I have received and continue to receive at the Bristol Eye Hospital. I am also eternally thankful to the donor of my eye as this wouldn't have been possible without the incredible and selfless act of organ and tissue donation."


Natalie Rance 1