Tooth-to-Eye Transplant Saves Vision

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A new medical breakthrough could possibly restore sight to the blind by transplanting parts of teeth to the eyes.
   
A sliver of Kay Thornton's tooth gave her the ability to see again, and she is ecstatic.

"I can see cars. I can see buildings," she said after the procedure.

A rare medical condition destroyed Thornton's cornea and blinded her nine years ago. Now she is receiving a rare tooth-to-eye transplant.

Doctors at Miami's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute borrowed the technique from Italy.

The procedure works by using a person's tooth to hold an artificial cornea that replaces the damaged one. Doctors then place a plastic window in the front part of the eye.

Doctors discovered they could use a tooth for this procedure because it would not be rejected by the body and it is strong enough to stay in place.

In Thornton's case, doctors also used a piece of her cheek to become the soft tissue around her pupil.

After two weeks she was already reading, but what she looked forward to the most shouldn't be surprising.

"Seeing my children and my grandbabies," Thornton said.

She also said the whole experience has given her a new appreciation for everything.

"I see some white clouds," Thornton said. "I don't ever take anything for granted again."

Doctors used this procedure over other cornea replacement options due to the type of injury.

Thornton was the first American to undergo the procedure. Surgeons said it is also a promising procedure for burn victims and soldiers with whose eyes are scarred in combat.

*Originally aired Sept. 17, 2009

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.