The girl with the dragon tattoo has nothing on a Swansea gran who has had her eyes “tattooed” to cure a rare condition.
Mandy Liscombe had tattoo ink inserted into her corneas – effectively creating a pair of shades inside her eyes – by pioneering Singleton Hospital ophthalmology consultant Mario Saldanha.
Left: Mrs Liscombe’s eye with the tattoo ink clearly visible
Some years ago Mrs Liscombe had laser surgery to treat glaucoma but an unusual side effect meant her eyes became highly light-sensitive.
Various solutions were tried, unsuccessfully. It reached the point where Mrs Liscombe began to worry it was no longer safe for her to drive.
Now her vision has been restored. “It’s fantastic,” she said. “Mr Saldanha has changed my life.”
Mrs Liscombe explained there was a family history of glaucoma, a build-up of pressure in the eye that can cause permanent sight loss or damage.
She was advised by another consultant to have laser treatment, making tiny incisions in the coloured part of her eyes to release the pressure.
Unfortunately a side-effect affecting perhaps one in a thousand people left her with life-changing problems. “I became extremely light-sensitive. It had a huge impact on me,” she said.
“It affected me when I was watching TV or when I was in the theatre or cinema.
“Sometimes I felt it wasn’t safe to drive in the dark. I drive early in the morning to go to work and I drive the grandchildren. But once headlights hit me, I really couldn’t see.”
Other consultants suggested she wore coloured lenses, which made no difference, and then coloured contact lenses which she couldn’t tolerate. Then after five years of problems she was referred to Mr Saldanha.
He explained the problem was caused by light entering Mrs Liscombe’s eyes twice: through the pupils and through the artificial openings the laser procedure created.
Mr Saldanha said surgeons traditionally used tattoo ink to try to block off certain abnormalities on the cornea, the clear window of the eye.
But, unlike skin, the cornea has no pigment to take up the ink so it was always a temporary procedure that faded and had to be repeated.
“For Mrs Liscombe, we used a tiny, precise scalpel to create a pocket in the centre of the cornea, over where she had the laser. We then put in a layer of tattoo ink and closed the pocket.
“It’s like having a filter in the clear window of her eye but without affecting the coloured part, and retaining the artificial opening.
“It worked instantly.
“The beauty of it was, we had actually checked it out first by temporarily using marking ink on that area, but on the surface, and asked her to go out for a couple of hours and come back.
"She found it was dramatically different. She wanted us to do it – and to do the other eye too.”
Although the first of its kind in Wales, Mr Saldanha has since published an article on the procedure so other surgeons can adopt it.
Mrs Liscombe had the procedure on her right eye, the worst affected, two years ago. She said: “Once the dressing came off and my pupil dilated again, it was instant. It was gone straight away.
“Mr Saldanha thought that perhaps it would compensate for the other eye but it accentuated the problem because I was left with one squinty eye.
“Now I’ve had that done too and it’s fantastic. Mr Saldanha truly is a marvellous man – he’s amazing.”
This surgical procedure is not to be confused with the cosmetic tattooing of the conjunctiva (white of the eye), which is dangerous and can cause vision complications or even blindness.