‘I was on a scaffold preparing a ceiling fresco, when a drop of lime slid past my safety glasses. It hurt a lot, and I was focused on making the pain stop. After an hour of
rinsing under running water, a friend took me to the emergency room. That’s when the alarm bells started ringing. I had suffered severe eye trau-ma; lime continues to burn for a long time. The damage was going deeper and deeper. In a year, I was blind.’
‘At the beginning I still had a little light in the eye, but eventually it all goes away. No light, no darkness – nothing. It’s a very strange sensation. Your body also needs to adjust. It literally made me ill. I was often nauseated due to balance problems. Your brain sends out signals that aren’t quite right anymore.’
‘Fortunately, I have two eyes, and I was determined to continue living my life. I had just completed my training in Old Painting Techniques, so I was highly motivated. But I was also afraid that my one-sided blindness would affect my work.’
After an intensive period during which Anne-Mieke visited the hospital every day, she was told that treatment is only possible once the eye has fully rested. ‘That took a year! However, when I saw my ophthalmologist again, I was told the damage was so severe that there were no more treatment op-tions. I had expected there to be some options, for example a cornea trans-plant. I was ready for the challenge of tackling that eye.’ Anne-Mieke’s doctor then told her about a clinical trial for treatment of eye burns. She qualified for participation.
After an extensive series of tests, Anne-Mieke is included in the clinical trial: a stem cell treatment. ‘This did require harvesting stem cells from my healthy eye. That was a difficult decision. There are risks associated with surgery. If something goes wrong, you lose sight in both eyes. I must have made a list of the risks and benefits a thousand times. But ultimately I decided to grasp the opportunity.’
Some stem cells are collected from Anne-Mieke’s eye, and over the course of six months, they grew into a membrane in a lab. In December 2017, the sur-gery in which the membrane is replaced was performed. ‘Initially I wore an eye patch, but finally the day arrived that it could be removed. I gradually regained more and more of my sight. First you see a wall. Then you see the wall is made of stones. It was a miracle!’
‘I’m still in follow-up. I will remain involved in this study for the rest of my life. I believe this is important for other patients who have suffered chemical or physical burns to their eyes.’
‘My eyesight is not 100% of what it was – the damage was too great – but I can read large letters and my depth perception is back.’
‘Actually, I don’t really think about it anymore. People around me don’t no-tice either. That feels great. I’m back at work full-time, I have exhibitions and I travel a lot. I enjoy that even more now. What I’ll never do again is work on a ceiling fresco. I’ve learned my lesson.’
Photo: Anne-Mieke working.
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