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New Procedure Offers Local Man Chance For Vision

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wade Cook must sit close to his television, but even at only a few inches away, he does not see much.

"I've always been legally blind," he said.

Cook was diagnosed with aniridia, a genetic condition, three years ago.

Doctors said Cook's eyes never fully developed. As a result, blood vessels grew over his eyes and created scar tissue, which block his sight.

Aniridia eventually leads to blindiness. Dr. Ming Wang, of Nashville, Tenn., created a new procedure that is offering patients hope.

"He said 'You've come to the right place and I believe I can help you' and that was just awesome," Cook said.

During the procedure, surgeons take amniotic tissue that is donated from Caesarean section deliveries. The tissue is sewn onto the scarred cornea and eventually, heals the scar.

Cook went to Nashville three weeks ago for the procedure on his right eye. He said he may return for more surgery, but for now, the eye is healing and he is back at work in Raleigh.

Doctors said each eye must go through the procedure separately.

"This procedure will be the life-altering one," Cook said.

Surgeons will perform a corneal stem cell transplant on his eye.

Doctors hope the donor's cornea will give him new sight and the stem cells will prevent future scarring.

"I may see even better than I ever had," Cook said.

Cook said he hopes to trade in his thick glasses for slimmer ones and also dreams of getting his driver's license.

"That's the one big adolescent thing I missed out on," he said.

Because the procedure is so new, Cook's insurance would not cover the surgery, so doctors offered the service free of charge.

However, Cook is responsible for about $50,000 per eye in additional hospital charges.

Doctors will not know if the procedure worked until the day after the stem cell procedure. If it does, Cook said he will have the other eye done.


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