Plucky Oscar's sight for life

BRIGHT FUTURE: Louise Walsh with son Oscar, 3, who had an operation on his left eye for a corneal transplant.
BRIGHT FUTURE: Louise Walsh with son Oscar, 3, who had an operation on his left eye for a corneal transplant.

A Nelson couple refused to let their 3-year-old son go blind in one eye, fighting for him to have the radical surgery that saved his sight.

Richard and Louise Walsh are now encouraging other parents to speak up if they are uneasy over medical advice.

Oscar Walsh suffered an infection two years ago after a piece of grit got into his left eye.

The grit was removed but bacterium introduced with it then destroyed most of his cornea.

Mum Louise said doctors told her to let Oscar grow up with the use of just one eye. But after doing research on the internet, she found a better solution.

The complicated procedure - a deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK) - involves attaching a cornea from a deceased donor to a thin layer of the patient's cornea. "We're glad we've done it. It's been full-on, but to leave it the way it was [was unacceptable]," Walsh said.

Dunedin girl Natalya Skelton became the youngest New Zealander to receive a corneal transplant in 2009.

Oscar's father said they would encourage parents to challenge medical advice if they felt there could be a better option for their child.

"Definitely seek a second opinion, if you feel that something's not right, from the word go," Richard Walsh said. "There are guys out there doing this stuff and they're pioneers, really."

Having the operation meant Oscar could not play contact sports in the future.

"It was a tough decision, but there's plenty of other things he can do, like athletics. His eye that was almost completely clouded over is now perfect."

There was also a lengthy recovery period, "but the potential for him to vision back in his eye outweighed the risk for us."

Walsh said his wife did the research that led them to contact eye specialist Professor Charles McGhee of the University of Auckland.

He operated on Oscar at Auckland's Eye Institute on September 2. He stayed at Ronald McDonald House for a month after the operation.

Oscar now has about 15 tiny stitches holding his new cornea in place.

The bandages covering his eye were taken off after 24 hours, but he kept both eyes tightly closed for a further four days.

"We actually went from having a child with the use of one eye to him cruising around blind for about a week," Mrs Walsh said.

The big moment came when he was playing with another child, and couldn't resist opening his eye to see what was going on.

Oscar said he could see "a little bit".

Louise Walsh said Oscar pulled remedial patches off his good eye unless they were taped on.

"It's hard work, because he's a determined wee fella."

Oscar will go back to kindergarten this month with protective glasses and an ACC-funded "bodyguard" to make sure he does not get into any situations where his eyes could become endangered.

Walsh has been told that she can write an anonymous thank-you letter to the family of the deceased donor whose corneal tissue went into Oscar's eye.

She has been told that the donor was a 50-year-old Australian.

"We joke that [Oscar] will support the All Blacks with one eye and the Aussies with the other."

Sunday Star Times