North Texas tissue donors aiding others around the world

Transplant Services Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center recently provided 46 ocular allografts for transplant to support two Dallas area ophthalmologists as they conducted a medical mission trip to Mombasa, Kenya. C. Bradley Bowman, M.D., and Oluwatosin “Tosin” Smith, M.D., spent six days in Mombasa at the Lighthouse Eye Centre where they performed a number of ocular surgical procedures.

The Lighthouse Eye Centre was founded in 1969 by Bill Ghrist, M.D., an ophthalmologist from California. Today the Eye Centre is a modern clinic and surgical center that saw 32,217 patients and performed 2,118 surgeries in 2015. Besides walk-in and appointment clinics in Mombasa, the center sends out teams to provide ocular health care in rural areas surrounding the city. Many doctors and health care professionals from around the world visit for up to three weeks at a time to assist the local staff.

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Dr. Bradley Bowman with a young patient and her family.

The Lighthouse Eye Centre is located on Tudor Creek, the smaller harbor of Mombasa, less than two miles from the Indian Ocean. Its mission includes a strong Christian evangelical outreach.

Dr. Bowman, a corneal specialist, and Dr. Smith, a glaucoma specialist, joined forces on a mission trip two years ago. While Dr. Smith is a veteran of nine medical mission trips to western Africa, this was her first trip to Mombasa. Dr. Bowman is member of the Board of Directors for the Lighthouse Eye Centre, and has made six trips to the mission over the past 16 years.

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Bradley Bowman, M.D., performs a cornea transplant at a clinic in Kenya.

"This is truly a special place," said Dr. Bowman. "Their mission statement is Striving to Heal Physical and Spiritual Blindness on the East Coast of Africa."

Of the 46 ocular allografts TSC provided for the mission trip, 10 were corneas used for vision-restoring transplants. Twenty-eight allografts were sections of corneas preserved for use as “patch” grafts in vision-preservation surgeries such as glaucoma shunt placement. Eight sclera patch grafts also were sent. These allografts were the gifts of 17 donors across north Texas from 13 hospitals and two medical examiner offices.

While two of the donors were in their 20s, most were over 60. A wide spectrum of careers was represented, including health care, construction, oil field, aviation, engineering, and retail. In addition to the grafts sent to Mombasa, this group of donors provided six corneas for vision restoration and 14 ocular grafts for vision preservation that were used in North Texas.

This was the second time in 2016 that TSC sent ocular tissue to Mombasa. In February TSC sent six ocular allografts.

“Transplant Services Center is grateful for the opportunity to be able to provide corneas for sight restoration in underserved areas such as Kenya,” said Donna Drury, TSC Director. “Seeing the pictures of the men, women, and children who have benefited from these gifts reminds us of the importance of the work we do on a daily basis. We are so thankful for our wonderful donor families who choose to help others during their time of grief through the gift of cornea donation.”

Once the team, which included Dr. Smith’s children and her parents, arrived in Mombasa, they took one day to rest and unload supplies. Ibrahim Matende, M.D., the Medical Director for the Centre, along with the two other local doctors, had a number of patients screened and ready for surgery. During the course of five days treating patients, the two doctors, assisted by surgical technician Denise Delrio, performed a number of glaucoma surgeries and 16 corneal transplants.

Dr. Matende said all patients were doing well at the two-week follow-up exams.

Drs. Smith and Bowman spent much of their time teaching glaucoma and corneal surgical techniques to the three Kenyan doctors. “We loved the staff – they were helpful, hardworking and willing to learn new things,” Dr. Smith said.

One case stood out for both doctors. A three-month old girl had been initially diagnosed with congenital glaucoma. However, further evaluation brought that diagnosis into question. “Unlike most of those cases her eyes were relatively normal sized and she really wanted to see, tracking the light instead of the photophobia and light aversion that we see with glaucoma and her pressure was only elevated moderately in one eye,” Dr. Smith said.

Dr. Bowman performed a corneal transplant on the normal pressure eye, while Dr. Smith inserted a glaucoma tube shunt in the other eye in order to preserve the optic nerve. If all goes well, a corneal transplant will be performed on that eye in the future.

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Oluwatosin “Tosin” Smith, M.D., and surgical technician Denise Delrio perform surgery at a clinic in Mombasa, Kenya.

From the wide plains of the Big Sky Country, to the rolling terrain of the Hill Country, to communities large and small throughout the Metroplex, 17 Texans left behind a legacy of sight. Whiles hundreds of Texans do so every year, what makes this group unique was how their gifts, along with the healing skills of two Dallas physicians, travelled 9,000 miles to restore or preserve vision.

Transplant Services Center uses “Completing the Circle of Care from Donation to Transplantation” to describe its mission. For these 17 generous donors the “Circle of Care” connected the Brazos and Trinity Rivers to the shores of the Indian Ocean.