Feb 2014

The world is no longer a dark and painful place

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Taylor Binns’ transformation from blindness to “as close to 20/20 as can be with corrective lenses” may seem like story book stuff, but more than three years after his limbal stem cell transplant, he continues to write new chapters.

“I am working for a consulting firm, but I am also in a process of getting into medical school,” says the 26-year-old. “The hope is that within a year-and-a-half I will be in medical school somewhere.”

He is also back on the road, driving a car. Back playing his beloved sport of rugby.  And free of the piercing pain that staggered him for almost four years while he was working on his commerce degree at Queen’s University in Kingston.

“It was excruciating,” says Taylor, who grew up in Orillia, Ontario. “Imagine the worst time you ever had with something in your eye. And there was a constant burning sensation.”

Limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD), a rare condition that occurs when the stem cells in a narrow band of tissue around the cornea break down, produced Taylor’s blindness and eye agony.  Common causes are chemical damage or burns, but sometimes the condition is congenital.  Contact lenses, which Taylor wore, have also been implicated.

As the video above dramatically shows, it was limbal stem cells harvested from his sister Tori that returned Taylor’s sight and banished his pain. Beyond undergoing the procedure, donating her cells posed no problems for Tori. “She’s doing great,” says Taylor. “She’s living in Vancouver where she does hair and makeup for movies and TV shows.”

Taylor, whose LSCD struck during a summer volunteer work stint in Haiti, can’t say enough about Dr Allan R. Slomovic, who performed his four operations at Toronto Western Hospital, beginning in November of 2010. “I was sent to see many doctors around North America and there is no one I would recommend more than him. Professionally and personally, he’s the best.”

Dr. Slomovic, who has done about eight limbal stem cell transplants in the last two years,   says the success rate has been good.  “But not everyone’s like Taylor. He was very fortunate: when we removed the scar tissue from his cornea, the underlying cornea itself was healthy.”

Dr. Slomovic credits Dr. Edward Cole and the staff at University Health Network’s Renal Transplant Program for making limbal stem cell transplants such a success. Their experience in arranging living and deceased donor kidney transplants gives them the expertise to ensure the most compatible donor is found and that the recipient is put on the most appropriate immunosuppression regime after receiving the donated cells.  “It’s a team effort,” says Dr. Slomovic.

As for Taylor, the world is no longer a dark and painful place.  His checkups are down to one every six months. Other than “a little bit” of immunosuppressant drugs, he is no longer on medication.

(For more on stem cells and eye diseases click here.)

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