The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday January 29th

Francisco Wakes From `5-Year Sleep'

NASHVILLE - Before the bandages were lifted from Francisco's eyes Tuesday morning, Dr. Ming Wang, Francisco's mom and teacher Carole Klein said a short prayer.

That prayer was answered.

"It was a miracle," Wang said. "A huge smile spread across his face, and I knew that we had been successful."

After a quick eye test, it was determined that Francisco's surgery had repaired the sight in his right eye to 20/70 vision. The process to repair his left eye will begin after his right eye has healed.

"It was like waking from a five-year sleep," Francisco said. "Before I could see, I had to recognize my friends from the sound of their voices."

Francisco, a sophomore at Chapel Hill High School, lost his eyesight in a chemical injury when he was 10 years old.

Francisco, his mother and Klein all flew to Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Monday morning to begin the surgical process.

Three days later, Francisco could actually view his own reflection in the mirror.

"The first time I saw everybody, they all looked so tall," Francisco said.

CHHS students raised money during the month of November to fund Francisco's trip.

The money helped pay for hospital, travel and recovery costs.

Wang, who waived his surgical fee, said the surgery went more smoothly than he expected.

"The only thing that is different about his eye is the white doughnut-shaped ring surrounding his cornea," Wang said.

The ring of stem cells that now surrounds Francisco's cornea was taken from a 12-year-old donor from Winston-Salem.

"It was important that the donor cornea be as close to Francisco's age as possible," Wang explained.

"That way, the recipient would not outlive the donor cornea."

In a few months, Francisco's eye should be completely adjusted to the cornea graft.

"At that point, we will know for sure how well he will be able to see," Wang said.

While Francisco is waiting for his eye to heal from the surgery, he will have to take drugs that suppress his immune system.

"This is to keep the foreign cells of the donor from being rejected by Francisco's immune system," Wang said.

"The drugs that Francisco will have to take will make him very susceptible to disease, but as long as he takes good care of himself, he should be OK."

Francisco's surgery consisted of a three-part process.

First, scar tissue had to be lanced from the outside of Francisco's eyeball. This tissue had built up as a result of an accident that occurred after his first surgery, which left his original cornea perforated.

Second, Francisco's blood cells were cauterized so that his pupil could be moved down to its proper position.

Finally, the ring of donor stem cells had to be sutured around Francisco's cornea.

The third part of the surgery was the most difficult because Wang had to hand-fashion the shape of the ring to perfectly fit around Francisco's cornea.

The riskiest part of the surgery occurred when the cornea was lifted to move the pupil.

"At any point in the surgical process, a mistake could have occurred to render the entire process in vain," Wang said.

Wang, who is a pioneer in cornea graft research, has a patent for the technique used on Francisco.

However, as technology and techniques improve, Wang would like to see the procedure used all over the world.

"The procedure brings a ray of hope to a group of patients for whom, otherwise, present technology has nothing to offer."

The City Editor can be reached

at citydesk@unc.edu.


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