IOWA CITY - Imagine you're 65-years-old and you remember everything as it was in 1961. Now, for the first time in nearly 50 years, you can see: your wife's face, your children and grandchildren. This is the story of one Cedar Rapids man's modern day miracle.
"A tank of ammonia blew up in my face," explained Tony Balik. The accident happened just before he graduated from high school while working his summer job on a farm. Balik hoped to play college football, but the explosion destroyed his vision in his right eye. Doctors tried to save his sight in his left eye with multiple cornea transplants.
One by one, his body rejected them.
"Depression," confided Balik. "Not knowing where I was going."
But not being able to see more than shadows didn't stop Balik from earning a college degree and having a family. He married a woman whose face he'd never seen. "Well, it was quite an experience," Balik admits.
He and his wife Jane raised six children together. "I can remember us swimming at the shallow end and him throwing us up in the air and going down," said Sara Scott, Balik's daughter. "That was always a good time."
A few years ago, Balik's very limited eye-sight started deteriorating even more. "I couldn't see my finger move in front of my face," said Balik.
Balik heard about a new cornea transplant, called a Boston Kerato Prosthesis, or KPRO. He went to Dr. Kenneth Goins at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for help. "He's already had two cornea transplants rejected," said Kenneth M. Goins, M.D., a clinical ophthalmology professor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. "If I did a third, it would probably fail in weeks."
The KPRO procedure would likely be Balik's only option. "I really had faith," said Jane Balik. "I really did this time."
During surgery, Dr. Goins cut out the diseased cornea and replaced it with this device which includes a clear window, donated cornea tissue, and a titanium ring.
The day after, he took the eye patch off Balik's eye. "We knew something was wrong because I couldn't see anything," said Tony Balik. Jane remembers, "there was just a spot in the middle of his eye."
A second surgeon thought this could be a retinal detachment. "It's somewhat like having a camera where the film is no longer where its supposed to be in the focal plan is now lifted up and everything appears out of focus," explains Stephen Russell, M.D., and professor of ophthalmology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
This meant another surgery. Once inside the eye, Dr. Russell found the retina was in perfect condition, there was just a blood clot blocking his view.
"They were looking in my eye and I could see behind them there were an eye chart there and I started reading the eye chart....whoa," said Balik, as he began to cry.
Then, Balik saw his wife, children, and grand kids for the first time.
"She was more beautiful than I imagined her to be," said Balik of seeing his wife Jane for the first time ever.
"To everybody he says there's your nose and he sticks his finger out," said Jane. "People are teasing him now that that's like his greeting."
"He just seems more complete," said Scott.
No doubt Balik's life has changed with the gift of restored sight. "I was hoping that we would have a great outcome because I knew he was miserable that he was not able to see," said Dr. Goins. "God answered our prayers."
Prayers answered, after 48 long years.
"God is great," said Balik. "He gave me another."
Balik is a huge baseball fan and tells KCRG-TV9 News he can't wait to travel to Wisconsin to watch his first major league game.
For more information about the keratoprosthesis (artificial cornea) surgery, contact:
Kenneth Goins, M.D.
Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology
University of Iowa
Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences