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Nashville, TN | The First Case of Artificial Cornea Transplantation | Wang Vision Institute

Brad Barnes discusses being blind and undergoing the first artificial cornea transplantation.


Speaker 1: A year ago, we introduced you to a Hazelwood man, blinded in an industrial accident. His world consisted of shades of light and dark, but a Washington University doctor has transplanted a salivary gland from under his jaw to his temple to restore moisture to his eyes. That enabled him to undergo a unique surgery that could restore his sight. Tonight in depth in the Fox Files, one man's inspirational battle to see again.

Speaker 1: What lies beneath these sunglasses may be disturbing for you to look at, but imagine living this way.

Brad Barnes: It's been a long, long time, 12 years. It's been a long time being blind.

Dr. Ming Wang: I'm shining some light into Brad's right eye and as you could see, that it's very white and scarred up.

Speaker 1: Flaps of skin cover Brad Barnes' corneas. They were destroyed in an industrial accident, but the 43 year old hopes a couple of hours of special surgery will change that.

Dr. Ming Wang: You can see that light right now, right?

Brad Barnes: Yes.

Dr. Ming Wang: Good.

Speaker 1: It's been that way since that September night in 1994. 15 minutes before his 32nd birthday, Brad was working with molten aluminum.

Brad Barnes: The tank exploded in my face. It was 1100 pounds of 1,550 degree molten aluminum. It hit my eyes and I was instantly blind. It burned my corneas and my tear glands right out of my eyes.

Dr. Ming Wang: Brad is what we called a patient with a condition called the irreversible cornea blindness, for whom all traditional technologies have failed and no longer work.

Speaker 1: But eye surgeon Dr. Ming Wang is using new technology developed at his vision institute in Nashville. First he'll use a special laser to create a pocket in the eye. In a second procedure, he'll insert an artificial cornea. Brad's wife Jackie is the one who heard about Dr. Wang's work. She puts it in God's hands.

Jackie Barnes: We won't know unless we try and if it's his will that he doesn't see, then he'll continue doing what he's doing.

Speaker 1: What he's doing is working with kids and motivating people.

Speaker 5: My brother Brad's having surgery tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning to get a cornea transplant.

Speaker 1: He's part of the God Squad, a group that uses strongman feats to share its faith with others. He also speaks to students on behalf of the martial arts studio where he works out.

Brad Barnes: It's just a calling on my heart from God that I need to just go and give back to the community and give back to society.

Speaker 1: The laser surgery is going well.

Dr. Ming Wang: Perfect. We are in good shape. How are you feeling?

Brad Barnes: I'm doing okay.

Dr. Ming Wang: You accomplished this step beautifully. The laser is beautiful.

Speaker 1: Dr. Wang is excited about how things are going, but there is more work to be done and more waiting for Brad's wife Jackie.

Jackie Barnes: Yeah, I am really nervous. I'm just waiting. I just want to hear it was successful. That's what I'm waiting for.

Speaker 1: But she knows there are no guarantees.

Jackie Barnes: And that's okay too, but it would be so cool if it worked. He deserves it.

Speaker 1: If it does work, how much sight would Brad regain?

Dr. Ming Wang: It's not 2020. It's to restore vision from nearly complete darkness to some degree of vision one can take care of yourself at home.

Brad Barnes: I just had a little bit of sight for someone who can't see. You can't imagine unless you've been there how much that little bit can do for you.

Dr. Ming Wang: I'm going to put in the artificial cornea.

Speaker 1: Dr. Wang calls it burying the treasure. It's implanted and covered up.

Dr. Ming Wang: Three months later we make a little opening. I call it uncovering of the prized treasure so he will be able to see again.

Speaker 1: Finally, Jackie got the news she had been waiting for. The surgery was more complicated than Dr. Wang anticipated. He actually located Brad's pupil that had been displaced by the blast and re-centered it.

Dr. Ming Wang: I basically rebuilt the front part of his eye, rebuilt the whole thing. Then I was able to put my little artificial cornea in there and suture it all together.

Jackie Barnes: That's so cool.

Dr. Ming Wang: You're welcome.

Jackie Barnes: Thank you.

Dr. Ming Wang: You're welcome.

Jackie Barnes: Thank you.

Dr. Ming Wang: You're welcome. It's been a long process for him.

Jackie Barnes: I know.

Dr. Ming Wang: We got a good start.

Speaker 1: A start that could give him a glimpse of the one thing he has never seen but wants to behold the most.

Brad Barnes: I want to see my wife's face. I want to hear her laugh the way I hear her now and I want to see her smile.

Speaker 1: That's because Brad has never seen Jackie's face. They were married just two and a half years ago. Brad had the procedure on just his left eye. Dr. Wang tells me the combination of the salivary gland transplant done by Dr. Randal Paniello at Washington University and his laser artificial cornea surgery is a world's first. In three months, Brad will return to Nashville to have the bandages removed and hopefully see a world he hasn't seen in 12 years.

Ashley Webster: It's a story of loss, hope and medical miracles.

Laura Faber: A St. Louis man came to Nashville in hopes that a local eye surgeon might help him see. A workplace accident nearly 13 years ago left Brad Barnes blind. After several surgeries, he finds out if he will get to see his wife for the very first time. Fox 17 was there as his bandages were removed in a story you're seeing only on Fox.

Brad Barnes: Dear heavenly father...

Laura Faber: With a Bible in hand, brad Barnes has left a lot of what is about to happen today to a higher power.

Dr. Ming Wang: You're ready?

Brad Barnes: I'm ready.

Laura Faber: 13 years ago, Brad lost his sight in a foundry explosion. Molten aluminum burned his body and his eyes for what Brad thought would be forever.

Dr. Ming Wang: After 15 major surgeries at several major medical centers, he was declared to be irreversibly blind.

Laura Faber: Barnes was referred to Dr. Ming Wang's foundation for sight restoration. He was the first person in the world to receive a procedure developed by Dr. Wang, a combination saliva gland transplant and laser artificial cornea implantation.

Dr. Ming Wang: I think this is a dawn of a new era of transplantation medicine, man-made body parts. You reduce the risk of organ transplantation rejection, which is the number one problem in organ transplantation.

Laura Faber: Yesterday was the final surgery in a two year journey. Today, Brad's bandages are removed. It's unclear because of blood and swelling how much Brad might see. Dr. Wang cleans out his eye and slowly opens the lid. Supporters wait with nervous anticipation.

Brad Barnes: I see a thumb up. Thumbs up.

Jackie Barnes: Yes.

Brad Barnes: I see it.

Dr. Ming Wang: You can see my thumb?

Brad Barnes: Yes, and hang on, don't move.

Dr. Ming Wang: Okay, don't move.

Brad Barnes: Is this your face?

Dr. Ming Wang: Yes.

Brad Barnes: Yeah, I see your face over there.

Laura Faber: The most important thing Brad can now see is his wife Jackie.

Brad Barnes: Yeah, I can see you now.

Laura Faber: For the first time in nearly 13 years, Brad sees himself in a mirror.

Brad Barnes: Yeah, that's me.

Laura Faber: With each passing minute, Brad's eyesight gets a little better.

Jackie Barnes: I'm just overwhelmed. It's very surreal. I'm just really happy.

Laura Faber: Brad is fascinated by things we take for granted, like a crumpled piece of tissue, but it's clear, this is a life changing day.

Brad Barnes: This is incredible. This is incredible. Man, I can't even believe this.

Laura Faber: A moment to witness a patient going from a life of darkness to sight, personally priceless for Dr. Wang and everyone involved.

Dr. Ming Wang: That moment is worth all the hard work and research and sleepless nights for decades.

Laura Faber: Brad Barnes will never have perfect eyesight. His vision will get about 50% better than today. A colored contact will help him with his depth perception and will help make his eye appear normal.