On July 16, 2021, Dr. Dean Ouano, an ophthalmologist at Coastal EyeEye Clinic, performed North Carolina’s first iris transplant at the CarolinaEast Surgery Center in New Bern. The surgery was performed on Capt. Kamil Szmyglewski, an active duty Marine currently stationed at Camp Lejeune.
In July of 2020, Capt. Szmyglewski was critically injured in an accident while visiting Florida from Savannah, where he was previously stationed. The rusty end of a flagpole struck his eye, severely lacerating the globe. He lost 90 percent of his iris, the colored part of the eye that controls the amount of light admitted to the eye by opening and closing the pupil. His lens, which brings images in focus, was also gone. Capt. Szmyglewski suffered severe light sensitivity, headaches, and loss of equilibrium. He feared that his injury would end his military career.
“I had pretty much no vision,” said Capt. Szmyglewski. “It was like looking through privacy glass you have in the bathroom. I could see light moving by, but not really shapes or anything like that.” After Capt. Szmyglewski was transferred to Camp Lejeune, Dr. Ouano assessed the injury and recommended the CUSTOMFLEX® ARTIFICIAL IRIS from VEO Ophthalmics.
After the iris and lens transplant, his vision went from legally blind in the injured eye to 20/40 vision. “To be honest, this saved me from being separated from the Marine Corps.” The long-term success of the iris and lens transplant is currently unknown; however, due to the high-quality technology available, Dr. Ouano is optimistic that the surgery will be a permanent correction of Capt. Szmyglewski’s vision.
“We have a small community, yet CarolinaEast is on the cutting edge of technology,” said Dr. Ouano. “I am grateful for the hospital’s support and the talented, first-class surgical team at the Surgery Center. Without their help, this miracle wouldn’t happen.”
At the time of the surgery, there were only three other certified surgeons in North Carolina to perform the transplant procedure, and Dr. Ouano was the first implanting surgeon.
By Brandy Popp, Director, Public Relations, CarolinaEast Health System