A DOCTOR who has helped to save the eyesight of more than 100 people in the last year has been praised by his patients for his “life-changing” work.
Consultant eye surgeon Jai Shankar set up the department at Wrexham Maelor Hospital to treat patients with Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a condition which leads to the loss of central vision.
Sufferers can no longer read, write or drive and are often left to register as blind.
Mr Shankar, along with a team of nurses, is using pioneering drug Lucentis, now available on the NHS, to treat the condition.
The department was set up at the Maelor in spring 2009 and since then more than 100 patients have been treated and some have now spoken of how their lives have been transformed as a result.
Peter Ruskin, 72, who lives on Smithy Lane, Wrexham, lost the central vision in his left eye before Lucentis was available.
When he began to notice the vision in his right eye deteriorating he went to his GP and was referred to the Maelor for treatment.
He was initially worried he could lose vision in both eyes.
He said: “It has certainly changed my life.
“I can use the computer, watch television and read – all the things I was starting to regard as precious that I might have lost.”
Gail Tranter, 62, of Llay, has also been receiving treatment for about nine months and hailed the work of the consultant.
“If I hadn’t had the treatment things would be so much worse. I’m deaf in my right ear, so I really did not want to go blind in my left eye.”
She said: “Mr Shankar is absolutely marvellous. All the nurses and everybody who work here are brilliant.”
Wet AMD is the leading cause of visual loss in the elderly, accounting for about half of all people with visual impairment.
The condition occurs when fragile new blood vessels grow in the eye and leak fluid or bleed.
Until 2006 there was no treatment available for most forms of wet AMD.
But the last five years have seen the development of Lucentis which can be injected into the eye, preventing the growth of unhealthy blood vessels and stabilising vision for about 95 per cent of patients where the condition has been treated promptly.
The service was first set up in North Wales at HM Stanley Hospital in St Asaph.
But this was difficult for patients from the Wrexham area as the condition and treatment meant they are unable to drive themselves and public transport links were problematic.
Furthermore, the demand for the new service meant some patients were at risk of not being seen quickly enough.
Mr Shankar was already working as a consultant eye surgeon at the Maelor having been trained in the technique at the St Paul’s Eye Unit in Liverpool and Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, and the hospital’s eye department had the equipment needed for the treatment.
The department put forward a successful case to set up a service for the Wrexham area and, after nursing staff had completed the necessary training, the first patients were seen in 2009.
Since then the service has assessed about 160 patients, and more than 100 of those have proved suitable for treatment with Lucentis, with some needing treatment for both eyes.
Mr Shankar said: “Wet AMD is the most common cause of blind registration in the UK.
“Perhaps the most grateful people are those who have had visual loss in one eye pre-2006 when treatment wasn’t available. They have experienced AMD so when they get treated in the second eye they feel the benefits.”
Patients need to be seen every month for up to two years and the service is now running three clinic sessions each week.
Those with suspected wet AMD can be referred to the service either by their family GP or by their optician.