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Groote Schuur Hospital adds another first for SA with corneal re-innervation surgery

Claremont resident Ingrid Barge.

Claremont resident Ingrid Barge.

Published May 5, 2022


Cape Town - The Western Cape added yet another medical first for its public hospitals following Groote Schuur Hospital’s first corneal re-innervation surgery in South Africa.

Groote Schuur Hospital became the first hospital in the country to perform the corneal neurotisation procedure on Tuesday.

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The surgery was performed by ophthalmologist Dr Hamzah Mustak and plastic surgeon Dr Ben Moodie, on 40-year-old Claremont resident Ingrid Barge.

The particular surgery provides hope for patients by restoring the innervation required to maintain a healthy cornea.

Dr Mustak said 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,” Dr Mustak said.

“There is a novel surgery described whereby a donor nerve graft is harvested to restore the innervation of the cornea.

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“The graft is attached into the nerve supply of the opposite side, tunnelled 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.”

It is very difficult to treat and usually results in vision loss.

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The nerve usually needs between three to six months to start working.

The procedure is performed at a few specialised centres internationally.

Dr Mustaq received training on techniques to do this procedure in Los Angeles, and hopes it will be the start of many being able to get the surgery done at the hospital.

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About 150 patients require the surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital.

“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 on.

“I hope the results of the operation will be successful and bring hope to the others who also need it,” Barge said.

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Cape Argus