Lifestyle Health

Sunday 23 July 2017

Son's tooth helps save dad's sight

Rob with his daughter Chloe, wife Lorraine and son Stephen at their home yesterday
Rob McNichol was blind for two years and can now see

Anita Guidera

FOR one father and son, the Biblical exhortation of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" has acquired a unique new meaning.

Rob McNichol's son -- also called Rob -- didn't think twice when the chance arose to help his dad to see again by giving him a canine tooth.

Father-of-eight Mr McNichol snr (57) was blinded in a work-place accident, when liquid aluminium exploded in his face in November 2005.

But he can now see again after doctors, using groundbreaking surgery, inserted his son's tooth in his eye.

"I thought I was going to be blind for the rest of my life. I went to see a professor in Nottingham who was involved in stem cell research and he transplanted some embryonic membrane, but it did not work. He suggested Dr Liu in the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton and we took it from there," he said.

The surgery, Osteo Odonto Kerato Prosthesis (OOKP), involved fitting a living canine tooth with an optical cylinder and transplanting it into the eye cavity.

Speaking at his home in the village of Bellaghy on the Sligo/Mayo border yesterday, Mr McNichol said that given his age, it was decided that a donor with younger gums would be more suitable.

"All of my kids said they would donate. They even wanted to donate an eye to me, if it meant I could see again," he said.

In the end, it was his namesake Rob, who lives in Manchester, who was selected and readily agreed to donate a canine tooth.

"Rob had no problem about it and I love him to bits. I have always had a great bond with him and it's only stronger now," he said.

Father and son went under the knife last autumn. While Mr McNichol Jr had his tooth and part of his gum and lower jaw extracted, his father was being prepared to receive his new eye, which was finally fitted in December, after a total of 16 hours on the operating table.


Given the complicated procedure that is involved, Rob was told there was just a 65pc chance of success but, as far as he is concerned, it has been a complete success.

Living with his wife, Lorraine, and two youngest children, Stephen and Chloe, in Bellaghy, he feels on top of the world.

"It doesn't look that great to be honest. People think I look like the Terminator but I don't care. The looks end of it are cosmetic and they don't matter.

"What is incredible is that I have come out of darkness into light again. I can watch television. I can walk down the street on my own. I can play darts and pool. I can see my wife and kids. It is just unbelievable".

The surgery, which costs an estimated €40,000, is believed to be the first of its kind to be carried out on an Irish resident.

Pioneered in Italy in the 1960s, Osteo Odonto Kerato Prosthesis (OOKP) surgery is carried out on patients for whom conventional corneal transplants will not work. It entails replacing a damaged cornea with a live tooth root and attached optical cylinder

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