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You've heard of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but a tooth for an eye is the trade a Mississippi woman made in Miami to regain her eyesight after years of blindness.
Recently, 60-year-old Kay Thornton sat at a table in front of a growing audience in an auditorium at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.
It had been a long journey for the Mississippi native, who was blind for the past nine years.
"If ya'll could take a week out and keep your eyes closed for a week," she said. "Just walk around your house and pretend your blind for one week.
It's amazing when you open your eyes back up."
She was blind through the births of seven grandchildren.
Her blindness is from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome — a rare, life-threatening condition that causes outer layers of skin to separate from inner.
For all its potential complications, the procedure is actually pretty simple.
A hole is cut in the damaged cornea and a clear acrylic tube is custom made to allow light in — kind of like cutting a hole in the wall and sticking a telescope through.
But without something to hold the tube in place, the system fails. That's where the tooth comes in.
Tooth bone and ligament have a better chance of living around the eye than a lot of other materials.
So Perez removed Kay's canine tooth, which is also called — no kidding — the eyetooth.
They sliced the root into a tiny plank, and stuck the tube through the plank, then rested the plank/tube combination over the hole in her cornea.
Labor Day weekend the bandages came off — three years after Kay first met Dr. Perez.
"It was a humbling experience," Perez said, to realize that Kay could see again.
At a news conference Wednesday, Kay took off her glasses. A tube like the end of a coffee stirrer poked out through a tender-looking skin graft covering the rest of the eye and holding the tooth in place.
The tiny tube darted around the room.
"I can see some of your figures," Kay said. "The lights are so bright. If the lights were dimmer I could see better."
She turned to Dr. Perez.
"I could see you up there at the podium," she said.
Perez said the vision in Kay's eye is about 20/70 right now — with a magnifying glass she can read a newspaper — but over time and with glasses her vision will be almost normal again.
He estimated that there are about 200 U.S patients like Kay, but said the treatment might also help Iraq war veterans with corneal scarring from explosion burns.