Southampton Patient featured in BBC Three’s The Human Tissue Squad

By David Anderson

Tom’s life is at a standstill until a new cornea is donated so he can see again. Highlighting the benefits of corneal transplantation in a young patient with keratoconus, David Anderson was the chosen surgeon in BBC Three’s The Human Tissue Squad.

A patient who had a life-changing corneal transplant at University Hospital Southampton is was featured in a new two-part documentary series on BBC Three. 

The Human Tissue Squad shows the work of NHS Blood and Transplant’s national tissue bank and the patients who benefit from tissue donated by people after their deaths. 

24-year-old Tom Fitzgerald from Poole in Dorset suffers from a rare degenerative eye condition called Keratoconus.  His condition meant he had had to give up studying quantity surveying, was unable to drive and his work options were becoming increasingly limited. Thanks to a donated cornea and an operation at Southampton, Tom can see well again and is starting back at university this autumn.

Tom was one of 62 patients at Southampton General to benefit from a corneal transplant at the hospital last year.  Southampton’s Eye Unit is the leading provider of eye care services on the south coast.

Mr David Anderson, Tom’s surgeon, said: “Corneal transplants are considered when the transparency of someone’s cornea (the clear outer layer of the eye) is affected and has damaged or distorted the cornea to such an extent that a patient’s vision can no longer be sufficiently improved with glasses or contact lenses. A cornea graft is also a life-changing option for patients like Tom who have a pre-existing condition such as keratoconus which distorts their cornea and affects the way the light enters their eye.  As a surgeon it’s amazing being able to improve someone’s sight so they can get back to living a normal life, but we are only able to do this because people are willing to donate their eyes when they die.”

Eyes are one of the most in demand tissues and must be retrieved within 24 hours of someone’s death to preserve their cells. Unlike other tissues, eyes can only be stored for one month, so a constant supply of eye donations is vital to keep up with demand.

Tom said: “I’m really grateful that someone I will never know has given me my sight back.  The surgery has really changed my life and I can’t wait to back to university in the autumn.”

Helen Gillan, General Manager at NHS Tissue Services, part of NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “I hope viewers watching the programmes will see how patients such as Tom depend on the generosity of donors’ families, how colleagues treat donors with respect, and how dedicated and committed the tissues team are to providing life enhancing tissues to hospitals up and down the country.

“When people join the NHS Organ Donor Register they can make clear which organs and tissues they are willing to donate.  In reality, it’s easier to donate tissue than organs after your death as there’s a longer window during which you can donate and you don’t have to die in hospital to become a tissue donor. Unfortunately, one in ten people joining state that they are not prepared to donate their eyes.  I hope that this programme will encourage people to donate their eyes after their deaths. 

“Making the decision to become a donor and telling your loved ones that’s what you want to do are important steps to potentially saving or enhancing the lives of others in the future through either organ or tissue donation.”

To join the NHS Organ Donor Register, visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk

To find out more about tissue donation, visit www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/tissuedonation

Ends

  • For additional information about NHS Tissue Services or to set up an interview with Morgan or Reuben contact the NHS Blood and Transplant press office by calling 01923 367600 or emailing pressoffice@nhsbt.nhs.uk
  • For urgent out-of-hours enquiries please contact the on call press officer on 0117 969 2444.
  • For interviews with the surgeons from Southampton General Hospital or for further information about the hospital, call 02380 258421 or email enquiries@andersoneyecare.co.uk. 

Notes to editors

  • NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. Its remit includes the provision of a reliable, efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England and North Wales. It is also the organ donor organisation for the UK and is responsible for matching and allocating donated organs
  • NHSBT Tissue Services is now the largest multi-tissue banking organisation in the UK. It is a significant leader in the development of national and international standards, policies and regulation in the field.
  • As many as 50 people can be helped from the donation from one person.
  • Tendons can be donated to help rebuild damaged joints, which helps people move more easily.
  • Bone is important for people receiving artificial joint replacements, or replacing bone that has been removed due to illness or injury. It helps reduce pain and improve mobility.
  • Skin can be used as a natural dressing, helping treat people with serious burns. This can save lives by stopping infections, can help reduce scarring and reduces pain.
  • Heart valves can be transplanted to save the lives of children born with heart defects, and adults with damaged heart valves.
  • Eyes can help restore sight to people with cornea problems (the clear part of the eye). This may be a result of damage caused by eye disease or injury, or defects from birth, and the white part of the eye (the sclera) can be used in operations to rebuild the eye.

About the Author:

David Anderson
David Anderson is the founder and medical director at Anderson Eye Care. With over 30 years of experience, he personally performs all of our procedures, consultations and assessments.

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