Man who couldn’t see for 30 years flies a plane just 12 months after life-changing surgery
A man whose eyesight got so bad that he couldn’t see his face in the mirror properly is now flying planes after life-changing surgery.
Joel Greenwood, 31, from Swansea, was born with cataracts in both eyes. This is when the lens – a small transparent disc inside the eye – develops cloudy patches.
As time goes on the patches normally become bigger which leads to blurry vision and can even cause blindness.
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Even though Joel was born with cataracts it wasn’t discovered until he was around five years old.
Growing up life was a lot different for Joel in contrast to the one he leads now where he’s learning to drive and fly planes – just a year after having the cataracts removed.
In September last year he underwent surgery as he wanted to be able to live life the best way he possibly could.
He studied maths at university, but said his eyesight always held him back when it came to roles like accountancy.
Joel said: “I was an award-winning student, but I could never do the job right because of my eyesight.
“I knew I had the rest of my life to live and I wanted to make sure it was right.
“I’m able to do everything I want now. I’m getting my driving licence. I’m learning to fly. It’s great to be honest.”
But before having the procedures, Joel spent the best part of 30 years having less freedom.
Growing up he couldn’t see things clearly, and it got progressively worse for him as he grew older.
Joel said: “I could never see the blackboard in school. It was that sort of thing.
“It gets worse and worse. It’s like being in fog. Everything is very blurred.
“When I did my masters degree I would sit there with binoculars and sit at the front with them. It would get so blurred I couldn’t see my face properly in the mirror.
“Nighttime vision is really bad with cataracts. Car lights completely dazzle you because the light gets trapped in the cataracts.
“I would sometimes use my phone torch to see when walking at night depending on the street lighting. Seeing at night is fine now and lights no longer dazzle me.”
The surgery was made possible by iLase – the private practice of consultant ophthalmic surgeon Professor Mohammed Muhtaseb, who is based in south Wales.
He’s one of the very few ophthalmologists working in the UK who is a fellowship-trained specialist in cornea, cataract and refractive surgery.
Professor Muhtaseb said when cataracts get worse over time it can effect a person’s mood so it’s always great to see patients get a confidence boost after having surgery.
“It just chips away at a person’s confidence and mood,” he added.
“It’s great that they can get it back.”
Professor Muhtaseb explained refractive cataract surgery works by replacing the natural lens of the eye with a clear plastic lens.
There is a thin transparent membrane that surrounds the eye’s natural lens, and this is left in place to support the new lens implant. This means the new implant is located in the same place as the eye’s natural lens that was removed during surgery.
Patients have access to a wide variety of lens implant types that provide a range of visual outcomes to suit different requirements and needs.
He emphasised that the procedure is safe, and people shouldn’t be worried about considering surgery.
Professor Muhtaseb said: “We are always concentrated on the outcome. What worries patients are things that wouldn’t cross my mind.
“‘Will I see what you’re doing?’ and ‘will I feel anything’? These are the questions that come up. They are the things I don’t even think about.
“The anaesthetic will numb for a few hours. They don’t see anything at all, and there is no needle involved at all. The success rates are very high.”
Speaking about life with cataracts, Joel added: “When using trains I would have to take pictures with my phone camera and zoom in to use the signs in the station.
“When ordering in a restaurant I would have to take pictures of the menus and zoom in as well. I could never see the menu details on the walls, but I can now.
“I stopped being able to see my feet properly a long time ago, so I’d walk down steps with logic, guess work and a good hand rail.
“I learnt to see the world in my head, and would function that way.”
Following surgery Joel also built his first computer – it was something he couldn’t do before because he couldn’t see the parts.
He said things like button symbols on a TV would be “invisible” to him, so he’d have to always figure it out with logic and a bit of guess work.
Joel explained he would also leave the gym feeling embarrassed because he couldn’t see the machine details to use them safely. Now he goes almost every day, and he can see things clearly and with confidence.
“People used to wave to me in the street and I wouldn’t see them and offend them by accident,” he added.
“I couldn’t see through car glass very well so people would also wave while passing and I wouldn’t see them either.
“With cataracts it’s like getting 100 can’ts a day and without it’s like getting 100 cans a day. Happiness is far higher now.”
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In fact Joel’s opportunities are now so much greater that he’s recently been able to fly a plane. His auntie is part of a flying club, and asked if he’d like to try it out, and he seems to have a bit of a talent for it.
He’s also started learning to drive – something he’s always wanted to do.
Joel said: “I always loved cars and stuff. When I was a kid I was obsessed with cars. It’s only the last year I’ve been able to learn.
“Everything I wanted to do I could never do – I couldn’t learn. My eyesight never allowed me to learn.”
Speaking about flying, he added: “I’m currently learning. Some friends are quite amazed that I’m flying before I have my driving licence. She (Joel’s aunt) said I’m a natural.”
Joel has now started writing a book on his life experience with low level disability in the modern world, and everything he’s gone through. He said he’s currently working with the title: “Sometimes the sun comes out.”
Talking about why he decided to write a book, he said: “I was told for years that because they couldn’t see behind the cataracts in my eyes it was a possibility that post-surgery my sight would still be bad anyway. So suddenly seeing like this was like an unexpected, amazing new reality to me.
“I don’t know if there’s an audience for the book, but I’m writing it anyway, in case I can give hope to one person with it.”
You can find more information about iLase here.
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