I wanted to share details about ocular implants and prosthesis because when I first heard in February that Willa would have her right eye removed, my mind flashed back to scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean…wooden round eyeballs or glass eyes rolling around on the floor or pirate patches for life.
This is the true story: Ocular Implants and Prostheses. (If you’re squeamish about eye stuff, better to not continue on!)
So, after they enucleated (fancy for removed) Willa’s eye, they then sent it off to be frozen indefinitely and used for cancer research. You’re welcome! Kind of feels neat (and freaky) that her eye is sitting in a dark walk-in cooler somewhere.
Next, an ocular coral implant (porous coral ball the size of a small marble) was placed where her eye used to be and then muscles and tissue were connected around that implant.
After those muscles and tissues were all surgically connected, a clear conformer was then placed on top of everything to sort of…hold it all in. This is what has been in Willa’s eye socket making it look super shiny. It also helped her eyelids stay open, rather than drooping shut.
The conformer has been in place for the last six weeks, ever since her enucleation. During her EUA Wednesday, Dr. Wilson removed her lasting sutures, but the conformer stayed in place behind her eyelids until today when our super awesome Ocularist, Rob Thomas, took it out.
When Mr. Thomas told us he was first going to take the conformer out, I had this fear that everything would just…fall out. Ah! But, it didn’t. He took the conformer out (with a cute little suction cup!) pretty easily and Willa didn’t like it, but she took it like a champ.
Then, he put another conformer-type thing on her socket, but this time, it had a tube sticking out of it. So, poor little Willa looked like something out of The Terminator for a few minutes. He used a syringe (without a needle) to squirt this liquid into the tube that ran over her eye socket and as it hardened it created a mold for her prosthesis. Amazing, right?! It was kind of like wax.
He molded it and used this flame to heat these tools to keep molding and shaping it just right. Add a little here, shave a little off there…it was really fascinating. Every now and then he’d have to put it back in, and then Willa just had this yellow/white eye with a few sharpie marks on it staring back at us.
There was a lot of screaming and holding baby hands away from baby eyeballs and lots of crying. I kept looking up at the ceiling and holding my breath and Steven watched every single second of it! But then we got to take a break and I had a margarita at lunch…that helped.
When we went back, Mr. Thomas picked an “iris button” that matched Willa’s left eye the best. He had a treasure trove of these iris buttons in all colors. He fitted that to the prosthesis and then he hand painted on tiny details while holding it up every once and again next to her left eye for comparison. This part was so incredible!
A couple more screams and adjustments later and we were done! Now Willa sleeps with one eye open….but not for long. After the swelling and puffiness goes down, the prosthesis should fit better and kind-of settle in a little more. Then her eyelids will be able to open and close more easily. I will be fantastic until I have to take it out, or put it back in. Ugh. But really, I am so in awe of all of it!
We had lots of conversations with Rob about lots of things, but mostly artificial eyes. He followed in his father’s footsteps and after college he completed a five year ocularist apprenticeship under his teaching. Rob explained that it truly is a trade. His passion and skill for this trade was remarkable.
On the drive home from Thomas Ocular, Steven said that he had been thinking all day about the parallels between the Gospel and Willa’s experience with enucleation and prosthesis. We are all sick with Sin. Jesus takes us in, removes our old, sick and dying hearts/spirits and creates in us a clean heart. Renews a right spirit within us. Willa’s eye was sick, ridden with cancer, and completely removed. And then today….. today, all day, Rob poured himself over this intricate work. He so delicately crafted this prosthetic for Willa that could one day mean the difference between her being rejected or accepted. He was confident, yet gentle and he worked so skillfully to give Willa this gift. To replace her sick eye with his workmanship. Scripture says that we are God’s workmanship. Throughout our lives, Jesus is sanctifying us, He is bent over us day in and day out, delicately forming our hearts to be more like His. He brushes us with His grace, His love, patience, and gentleness. No one is exactly alike…He molds us each in our own singular way with our own unique experiences. He is the ultimate craftsman, entrusted with the trade of making us new. And that…that is pretty fascinating.