Life changing cornea transplant has been “amazing”

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Rabia Abdul-Hakim from Stratford underwent critical eye surgery

A STRATFORD-upon-Avon mother who underwent a life changing cornea transplant to improve her near non-existent eyesight has described the moment when she could recognise her children’s faces again as “amazing.”

Rabia Abdul-Hakim, aged 46, who is a mother of six suffered eye disease since childhood as she grew up in the Cayman Islands but her condition was never properly diagnosed until she moved to Houston in America where an optometrist told her she had a corneal eye condition called keratoconus.

At its worst, Rabia said her vision was like looking into a drinking glass “smeared with Vaseline” and worse still, both eyes were affected.

“At the age of 15 I was told I needed glasses. My vision was blurred and I continually got eye infections, I was always itching and rubbing. The condition also made me suffer from photophobia and I was extremely sensitive to light. My brain was at tipping point and I couldn’t see traffic lights change colour and I couldn’t see my children properly. I had to stand at a certain point so they could walk to me and then I’d see them a bit more clearly,” Rabia said.

The condition affected every aspect of Rabia’s life.

Back in the Cayman Islands she represented her country in Taekwondo, a sport she loved but had to give up because it involves close physical contact.

And as a writer of children’s books about diversity and growing up in the Cayman Islands – which she also illustrated – she stopped working on those projects some years ago because of her eyesight. But the most significant impact caused by the condition was her missing out on some of the most important growing years in her children’s lives that any parent could wish for.

But things changed when Rabia moved to the UK in 2014 and two years later she was the fortunate recipient of a cornea transplant on her right eye at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London; she is now waiting for the same operation on her left eye.

“People are squeamish about being buried or cremated without their eyes. It’s something very personal to them but a satisfactory corneal match can help save the eyesight of up to three people. The cornea is taken from the donor and stitched onto the patient’s eye but even then there’s the risk of rejection. From my point of view, once the operation was done….my gosh….. to recognise my children’s faces again was heartbreaking,” said Rabia.

Another immense benefit of the transplant for Rabia was the decrease in the constant pain she had in her eyes and the rejuvenation of her self-esteem.

As a big supporter of women’s empowerment she attended a conference in 2014 on International Women’s Day and she fully intends to start writing her children’s books again. And despite the news that her daughter and sister suffer the same condition, Rabia is convinced her family will respond to the situation with great determination.

The charity Rabia is helping to raise awareness for – Fight for Sight is the leading UK charity dedicated to funding pioneering research to prevent sight loss and treat eye disease. A recent poll by the charity suggests 48 per cent of people in the West Midlands  declared eyes as the body part they would least like to donate when selecting from a list of organs. Only 7 per cent said the same for their heart and 2 per cent for their kidney. Furthermore, just 37 per cent said they would consent to donate the eyes of a loved one after they died.