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Donated corneas saved his eyesight

With two transplanted corneas, Ömer Yasar was finally able to see sharp lines and clear colours again. The eye disease keratoconus had been slowly ruining his vision ever since childhood. 
"Every now and then I think about who donated their corneas to me, because I am so grateful that I got my sight back," he says.

A dark haired man with a beard walking in a park.
Ömer Yasar. Photo: Anna Molander
The deterioration of Ömer Yasar's vision came on gradually over years; it was something he got used to without thinking about it. He got his first pair of glasses in 2005 when he was 18 years old. At the time he lived in Skövde with his family.

"I only realised how bad my eyesight was when I had my first eye examination at 18. However, the ophthalmologist thought that glasses would be enough," says Ömer Yasar.

A few years later, he moved to Gothenburg to study to become a certified engineer at Chalmers University of Technology.

"My sight was very blurry throughout my studies and I was forced to sit at the front during lectures. Yet, I still needed to squint, and my classmates had to tell me what was on the board. I couldn’t understand why my eyesight was so poor when I had glasses," says Ömer Yasar.

His vision was blurry even at very close range, and he was teased good-naturedly at school because he did not recognise, or failed to greet acquaintances. Even though Ömer Yasar did not understand it then, the eye problems made him very tired, his facial muscles were strained, and he often had to lie down and rest.

"I still tried to live a normal life."

Being diagnosed with keratoconus

Ömer Yasar's vision was regularly checked by an ophthalmologist in Gothenburg. Finally, in 2011 he was told that he had the eye disease keratoconus, meaning that the cornea becomes gradually thinner, especially in the middle, and develops a cone-like shape.

The disease leads to refractive errors and impaired visual acuity, which can no longer be corrected with glasses or specially adapted contact lenses in some cases. The recommendation was to undergo a corneal transplant.

"At the time, I thought that it was a major operation and did not want to have surgery. I was afraid of going blind," says Ömer Yasar.

A year later, he moved to Stockholm to work and then sought a second opinion at St. Erik Eye’s Hospital.

"The diagnosis was confirmed, but I was also told that I had stromal dystrophy and endothelial cell dystrophy. At the time, I was receiving crosslinking, CXL, treatment to prevent the keratoconus disease from getting worse, but it did not improve my vision," says Ömer Yasar.

Many new cornea and vision tests were performed after that and Ömer Yasar was again recommended to do a corneal transplant. 

"I said yes. Now I was mentally prepared and wanted the chance at a better life," he says.

A short wait for surgery

After only a few months on the waiting list, Ömer Yasar underwent surgery on his right eye in August 2015.

It is customary to operate on one eye at a time and wait for the first eye to heal before operating on the other eye.

"The operation went really well and I felt well cared for. As soon as I was able to open my eye bit after the surgery, I could already see clear colours and sharp lines. It was a wake up call for me, I couldn’t comprehend that I had walked around with such poor eyesight my entire life! I took myself out to see what Stockholm really looks like."

Initially, after the operation it felt like there was gravel in eye. Ömer Yasar’s sister helped him with the eye drops. The pain soon disappeared and most of the stitches were removed some time later in the hospital.

The surgery on the left eye took place two years later. That operation was successful as well and the eye healed according to plan.

"The difference was that the second operation felt easier mentally, because I was sure that it would go well, because it went well the first time."

Little risk of rejection

A man with dark hair and a beard standing by a brick wall.
Ömer Yasar. Foto: Anna Molander

Today, Ömer Yasar is 32 years old and lives a normal life, he has no restrictions, thanks to the transplant. Hopefully, they will last a lifetime. The risk of rejection is relatively small because the cornea lacks blood vessels.

There are a couple of stitches left in his eyes that he cannot feel, and they will eventually disappear by themselves. He is careful with his eyes and always wears sports glasses when he plays football.

"Mankind is amazing at adapting and starting over with new everyday lives and today I have left the problems with my vision behind me. I'm still a bit short-sighted, but it doesn’t matter, because I didn’t have surgery to get rid of the glasses," says Ömer Yasar.

He feels lucky that he was able to get help with restoring his vision.

"But, I have a friend with a different diagnosis and very poor eyesight that only gets worse and worse. Unfortunately, there is no available treatment."

Secure with the medical care

Ömer Yasar feels he has received a comfortable and assuring treatment from the ophthalmological department throughout the years. It has helped him to build trust. The fact that his family has supported him during the process has also been incredibly helpful.

"I used to expect the worst, I thought I could be blinded by the transplant, but was later told that the risk of that was minimal. I want to assure others in the same situation that they don’t need to feel afraid. This is classified as a standard procedure," he says.

He knows that eye disease can be hereditary.

"I’d look on the bright side if that were to be the case. Now I have knowledge about the disease and I’d be able to catch any vision impairments that my future children may experience early."

During a meeting for the Regional Donation Centre Stockholm Gotland in the spring of 2019, Ömer Yasar gave a presentation to healthcare staff where he told his story from a patient perspective.

"I wanted to help show how important this sector is. Personally, I am also positive about donating organs and I lobby for people to take a stand and register in the donation register. Every now and then I think about who donated their corneas to me, because I am so grateful that I got my sight back."

Text: Helena Mayer
This interview was first published in Swedish in September, 2019.