Heath Cliffe: “It’s me, I can see!”

Dean Dunning and Carys Cliffe with baby Heath Cliffe

Five-month-old Heath Cliffe is seeing a whole new world in front of him thanks to a powerful new contact lens.

The son of Bradford College Ophthalmic Dispensing graduate Carys Cliffe was just five weeks old when he had an eye operation after being born with a congenital cataract in his right eye.

Carys was told Heath had the cataract shortly after he was born. She said: “It was a bit terrifying. Older people are treated for cataracts every day but it’s totally different when it’s a child.”

After months of treatment, Heath had the lens made especially for him, and his proud mum brought her boy into Bradford College to show ophthalmology lecturers and current students how well he is now progressing.

For people with cataracts, the lens is cloudy and white, instead of being clear and transparent, stopping light and images reaching the retina. Carys, who is 34 and lives in Bradley Road, Huddersfield, said: “It's very rare for babies to have a congenital cataract and even more rare to have it in one eye as opposed to bilaterally.”

Following his operation, Heath was too young to have an intra-ocular lens implant, a new plastic lens placed inside the eye, making it necessary to provide a contact lens. Carys said: “This is the fourth type of size lens tried as it's impossible to measure the size and shape needed for Heath.”

Usually, for a high-prescription lens such as Heath’s, a hard lens would be used but Dean Dunning, Carys’ former tutor and Programme Leader for FdSc Ophthalmic Dispensing at Bradford College, explained these are unsuitable for such young children. He said: “A rigid lens can damage the soft eye socket.

“The higher the prescription, the thicker more curved the lens is. Heath has a +36.00 Dioptre prescription, which is virtually unheard of for a soft lens.”

Heath provided an excellent opportunity for students to find out how contact lenses are used to help very young children. He explained that contact lenses for babies were so unusual that Heath’s lens could be the only one they saw in their career. Dean added: “It’s very unusual for a child to have this treatment but he is blessed to have a family of optical experts to look after him.”

Carys graduated with her foundation degree in November and has run a business, See You At Home, with her optometrist brother Huw Farrow for around seven years carrying out domiciliary sight tests.

Heath has to wear the lens for six weeks at a time as well as having eye drops several times a day. Already clinicians have said the lens makes a difference. Carys said: “We patch the good eye to ensure the bad eye develops.”

Heath has been cared for at Calderdale Royal Hospital and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary by Devina Gogi, consultant in Ophthalmology. Carys said: “His care has been amazing and Ms Gogi has been brilliant.”

You can find out more about Bradford College's Ophthalmic Dispensing FdSc Foundation Degree on the college website, as well as the Ophthalmic Dispensing BSc (Hons) Degree offered at Bradford College.