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British surgeons insert piece of tooth into man’s eye to help him see

April 3, 1997

LONDON (AP) _ Surgeons restored a Briton’s sight by inserting a piece of his eyetooth into his eye _ a strange procedure, the patient admits, but it works.

``I can’t believe it. It is magic,″ said 62-year-old Bhimji Varsani, whom doctors say has gone from blindness to being able to read halfway down an eye chart.

Varsani was the first Briton to undergo the complex, two-part operation, developed by Giancarlo Falcinelli at Rome’s San Camillo Hospital, where the surgery has been done about 180 times.

Under the procedure, surgeons ground up a piece of Varsani’s eyetooth and jawbone to build a frame for an artificial cornea, which was stitched into his left eye.

Without the tooth and bone frame, the artificial cornea would eventually fall out of the eye socket. Tooth and bone are the best materials for the implants, doctors say.

Varsani _ blinded in one eye by smallpox since childhood and then in the other by an infection two years ago _ previously had undergone three failed transplants of donor corneas.

With this procedure, Varsani can see as well enough to read newspapers and tell the time from a wall clock, said Christopher Liu, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Sussex Eye Hospital in southern England where Varsani was treated.

The procedure cost $11,000 _ and, of course, Varsani did give his eyetooth for it.

``No one could give me a guarantee it would work,″ he said. ``But I thought if it would help me see, it was worth taking the chance.″

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