Saturday, August 11, 2001

Stem cells give blind woman hope

Cincinnati doctor expert in field

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Marsha Lindsey, a legally blind Texas woman, has simple dreams of driving to a mall, shopping to her heart's content and, when the day is done, reading the children's classic Good Night Moon to her daughter and two sons, all toddlers.

        Those dreams could come true by the end of the summer, thanks to stem-cell research done about 15 years ago and to Dr. Edward Holland, a Cincinnati physician who transplanted stem cells from a cadaver onto the surface of her right eye last June. The transplant brought her hope of getting a new cornea in upcoming weeks and perhaps seeing clearly again.

[photo] Marsha Lindsey and her husband, Chance, hope transplanted stem cells will help restore Mrs. Lindsey's vision.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        As the nation debates policies for embryonic stem-cell research, Mrs. Lindsey, 24, of Carrollton, Texas, clings to her hopes.

        “Down the road, I'm looking for whole-eye transplants,” she said. “Whether they grow it, clone it or whatever. ... I can see the light at the end of the road.”

        Mrs. Lindsey was born with aniridia, a rare congenital disease that leads to the deterioration of the iris, the membrane that surrounds the pupil.

        She lost her left eye when she was 11. She hopes to keep her right eye. Even now, some days her vision is clear and sharp; other days she can't make out a thing.

        That is why, she said, she champions President Bush's decision Thursday to support limited federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

        Mrs. Lindsey and her husband, Chance, arrived in Cincinnati on Friday afternoon and celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary. She will see Dr. Holland for a follow-up appointment Monday. In a couple of weeks, she'll find out if she's ready for the cornea transplant.

        Dr. Holland teaches ophthalmology at the University of Cincinnati and serves as the Cincinnati Eye Institute's cornea services director. In the last three years, he has performed about 170 stem-cell transplants for people who suffer from severe damage to their eye surfaces.

        The transplanted stem cells are from donated cadavers or from patients' living relatives.

        Dr. Holland said the transplants have a 50 to 80 percent success rate.

        “We are using adult stem cells. They're re-establishing the normal surface of the eye,” Dr. Holland said. “It's certainly a very, very exciting thing and an example of a real success story in medicine.”

        Aniridia runs in Mrs. Lindsey's family. Her vision was good when she was a child but deteriorated drastically in her teens. By her 20s, she couldn't make out lights, colors or printed words.

        “Everything was very blurry. It was like looking through many, many layers of waxed paper,” she said.

        Mrs. Lindsey was able to get a cornea transplant last year that restored her vision for four months. During that time, she read to her children and surfed the Internet without using screen enlargers or voice adapters.

        But her vision began deteriorating again. The cornea transplant didn't take without new stem cells.

        A patient's referral led her to Dr. Holland in May. Now, she's dreaming again of reading to her young children.

        “They enjoy having Mommy read to them,” she said. “If I can't read to them, (and) if I can't take care of them, I feel like I'm not doing my job.”

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