A 21-year-old patient from Yemen, Islam Hussein, who lost both his hands and eyesight in a bomb blast, has regained vision in one eye after successfully undergoing a corneal transplant at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi. The surgery, that involved complete reconstruction of the left eye, was conducted by a team of eye surgeons from the hospital led by Dr. Anil Radhakrishnan, Consultant, (Cornea & Refractive Surgery) and Dr. Gopal S. Pillai, Professor & HOD, Dept. of Ophthalmology.

Islam, the third of six children of a 45-year-old school teacher, hails from a village near Taiz, an ancient city among the steep cliffs of central Yemen. The birthplace of Yemen's Arab Spring in 2011, it is a war-torn region where firefights between rival militias are a daily occurrence and the landscape is littered with landmines and unexploded bombs.

In September 2017, Islam, a student of Class 11, was walking on a street near his home when he accidentally stepped on a mine laid by the warring groups in the area. It exploded, severely injuring his hands and legs, disfiguring his face and mangling his eyes. He was rushed to a hospital but lost vision in both the eyes.

Doctors said Islam’s legs had to be amputated, but his father refused to give up and moved him to a hospital in Egypt, where both his hands had to be amputated below the elbow due to infection. Doctors were not capable of helping him further, however. One of Islam’s friends recommended treatment in India, and the patient and his family arrived at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in December 2017, after undergoing plastic surgery on his foot in Jaipur.

Due to medical reasons, the hand transplant team at Amrita felt that the hand transplant for Islam would be more feasible after he regained his vision. Said Dr. Anil Radhakrishnan, Consultant (Cornea & Refractive Surgery), Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, “Islam’s right eye was beyond recovery as the structure behind the lens was badly damaged and the eye had shrunk in size. We, therefore, focused on the left eye. We reconstructed the shattered eye structures and, conducted corneal transplant and reconstructed the eye. We were not sure if it would work, as there was a membrane in front of the retina. But it was joy all around when, a day later, Islam opened his eye and could clearly see his mother in front of him. It was a very emotional moment for everyone, and both Islam and her mother couldn’t hold back their tears. He has regained 90% of vision in his left eye and is seeing perfectly with the help of glasses. He has also begun to walk around without any assistance.”

“When Islam came to Amrita hospital, his face, which used to be handsome before, was completely burnt and disfigured from the blast. The massive blunt injury damaged his eyes as if hit by a hammer. We gave priority to repairing the eye and regaining visual function. Now that Islam can see with his eye, he wants to go for a hand transplant so that he can lead a normal life. We have put him on the priority list for hand transplants,” shared Dr. Gopal S. Pillai, HOD, Dept. of Ophthalmology, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi. 

Bombs going off are common in Islam’s village where 500-600 people have lost their limbs in the past three years in explosions. “I consider myself very lucky to be alive. I also thank God and the doctors of Amrita Hospital that I can see the world again with my own eyes. Family was my main source of strength and support during this difficult time. It is like a second birth for me, as I had given up all hope. I always had dreamt of becoming a computer engineer, but after seeing the medical miracles at Amrita Hospital, I want to become a doctor and help transform lives, like they have transformed mine, ” said Islam. 

Islam’s mother, 40-year-old Dikhra Hussein, said that Islam was always very good at studies. “Our entire family had tears in eyes when Islam got his vision back and he could see us again. I want him to now continue his studies, become a doctor, and perhaps, return to India, the country which has given him so much love and care.”

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