The Slick Restaurant Group and Tygerberg Hospital ’Giving The Gift Of Sight’

The first life-changing lamellar corneal transplant surgery successfully performed on 10th May 2018.

The Slick Restaurant Group, owners of Belthazar, Balducci and Gibson’s Gourmet Burgers at the V&A Waterfront, has partnered with Tygerberg Hospital to ‘Give the Gift of Sight’: to assist in increasing the number of corneal transplants undertaken by the Tygerberg Hospital Department of Ophthalmology.

Corneal transplant surgery, whereby all 5 layers of the cornea, from outside to inside, are replaced, has been performed at Tygerberg Hospital for several decades. There is, however, a long waiting list, of approximately 130 patients for various ophthalmic surgical procedures, due to limited resources and scarcity of local donors. Good results are obtained with full-thickness transplants, although the recovery period typically lasts for several months before optimal vision is restored.

Lamellar corneal surgery, a new state-of-the-art technique, is currently being used in the developed world. It enables transplanting of the damaged tissue only (rather than the full thickness of the cornea).  Therefore, instead of replacing all 5 layers, the surgeon is able to replace specific layers only depending upon the patient’s underlying condition. Special instruments are used to separate the layers of the donor and recipient corneas thus enabling the potential use of the donor tissue for two operations. It is cutting-edge surgery with excellent outcomes, both from a vision and tissue rejection perspective, far exceeding the success of full-thickness corneal grafts.

Lamellar corneal surgery has been available in South Africa in the private health sector for a few years, however, it has not been freely accessible to indigent patients in the State Hospitals until now. On the 10th May 2018, the first lamellar corneal surgery was performed at Tygerberg Hospital on Mrs. Gladys Maistry from Eersterivier by Dr. Leonard Heydenrych, who received specialised training in lamellar corneal surgery at Moorfield’s Eye Hospital in London. Due to the shortage of local donors, the donor cornea for the operation was imported from the USA at a cost of R22 000. The surgery was a great success and the patient has already made a remarkable recovery. Born with Fuchs dystrophy, her vision had gradually declined until she became blind in the one eye. Maistry said she is extremely excited and immensely grateful to the doctors and the Slick Restaurant Group for restoring her sight “deur die Here se genade”. The surgeon only had to use two layers of the donor cornea, leaving donor tissue for a possible second operation. Dr. Leonard Heydenrych will be passing on his skills to Dr Derrick Smit, Tygerberg Hospital’s full-time corneal surgeon, who will become proficient in the surgical procedures and skills transfer to other surgeons.

Ian Halfon and Doron Duveen, directors of the Slick Restaurant Group, became involved with the corneal transplant project at Tygerberg Hospital a few years ago, with the kind help and passion of David Meyer (Professor of Ophthalmology), Derrick Smit (Senior Specialist) and Dr Sandika Baboolal, (former Ophthalmology Registrar). Company donations together with help from generous customers at their three restaurants assist with the funding of corneal transplants and essential specialised equipment at Tygerberg Hospital. This included a R200 000 Specular Microscope, the first of its kind at Tygerberg Hospital, that enables the surgeon to view, photograph and assess the inner cell layers of the corneas of patients. The surgeon can then decide whether lamellar surgery or full thickness grafting will be the correct procedure for the patient. Donations to this deserving initiative can be made via the Slick Restaurant Group website – please visit Slick Restaurant Group guarantees that all funds donated will go towards the cost of an operation (with no hidden administration costs) which include: importing the cornea from abroad, expert medical attention at Tygerberg Hospital Department of Ophthalmology, all specialised instruments needed for each corneal transplant and the cost of theatre.

This unique public-private partnership between the hospital and the Slick Restaurant Group will continue ‘Giving a Helping Hand to Someone in the Dark’. Hopefully, operations will now take place on a more frequent basis and Tygerberg Hospital will soon be able to help totally blind people.

“There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark” (Helen Keller, 1880 – 1968)

Caption: Front L to R Prof David Meyer and Ms Gladys Maistry Back L to R Dr Leonard Heydenrych, Dr Derrick Smit, Mr Ian Halfon, Dr Kurt Maart

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