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Groote Schuur Hospital performs first Cornea Surgery in South Africa

On Tuesday (3 May 2022), another groundbreaking medical procedure was performed by surgeons of Groote Schuur Hospital – this time, the first ever corneal neurotisation procedure by a hospital in South Africa, paving the way for many patients to benefit from this in the future. This latest cutting-edge surgery is a testament of Groote Schuur Hospital’s proud track record as a tertiary health facility for country’s best doctors, surgeons and nurses.

 

The surgery requires a collaborative effort with an ophthalmologist, a specialist doctor that diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, and plastic surgeon. The surgery done this week was performed by Dr Hamzah Mustak and Dr Ben Moodie. “There are several pathologies that can damage the sensory nerve supply to the cornea. The cornea is one of the most richly innervated tissues in the body and it relies on this nerve supply to maintain a healthy corneal surface. If the nerve supply is damaged or absent the cornea cannot maintain its integrity resulting in erosion of the corneal surface and eventually scarring and visual loss. There is a novel surgery described whereby a donor nerve graft is harvested to restore the innervation of the cornea. The graft is attached into the nerve supply of the opposite side, tunneled across the bridge of the nose, and then passed through the eyelid of the affected eye. The nerve is then carefully divided into several branches which are then tucked into little pockets created at the edge of the cornea,” said Dr Mustak.

 

“We have many patients with this problem which is very difficult to treat and usually results in vision loss. At Groote Schuur Hospital we have approximately 150 patients who need this surgery. I was lucky to have been to Los Angeles in the United States to get training on techniques to do this procedure. I hope this will not be the start for more patients to be able to get the surgery done at Groote Schuur Hospital,” added Dr Mustak.

 

The patient that was operated on is Ms. Ingrid Barge, a 40-year-old from Claremont. “Last year in September I suffered a type of stroke that affected the trigeminal nerve resulting in a loss of sensation to the right side of my face including the eye. My eye kept getting irritated. I am so excited to be the first patient to be operated. I hope the results of the operation will be successful and bring hope to the others who also need it,” said Ingrid.

 

“The nerve will take some time to start working, usually between 3-6 months. The procedure is performed at a few specialised centers internationally. This surgery provides some hope for these patients restoring the innervation required to maintain a healthy cornea,” commented an excited Dr Mustak.

 

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