My husband, Rich, had his right eye removed 7 months ago. Long story short, he had developed Diabetic Retinopathy 16 years ago, and the eye caused him too much pain to keep. He considered using an eye patch but realized they are hot and itchy. Unfortunately, bionic eyes are not yet an option, so he decided to go with a prosthetic eye, scheduled to be made by a great family of ocularists here in Oregon.

When I went with him to the appointment he asked me to take a few pictures to share with his friends. I did not expect the procedure to be as fascinating as it was. The process took two days, quite literally a weekend. The first day, Saturday, was when the eye was actually made, and the next day, Sunday, we went to pick it up. I bet you didn’t know you could have a whole new eye made in the same amount of time it takes to get your dry cleaning back. I hope you enjoy the learning experience as much as I did.

Disclaimer: I realize I may not be using correct terminology in my description of this process. I was an observer, not the ocularist.

It starts by removing the conformer

The conformer is a plastic shell (like a giant contact lens) placed into the eye socket after enucleation (eye removal) surgery to hold the shape for a prosthesis. It takes a couple months for the eye to heal and the swelling to go down before a prosthesis can be made.

This is the tube

The ocularist inserted a different conformer shell with a tube attached into his eye.

This is why

She squirted a viscous fluid into the eye socket to make an impression of the inside of his eye. He described it as being cold and very alien feeling, but it did not hurt.

It took a minute for it to harden

This the impression

After being removed, this is the impression of the inside of his eye socket. I think it looks like a mountain range, others have different opinions as to what it resembles. The overall shape of the prosthesis will be based off this impression to give it a perfect fit.

Now for the art to begin

The little disc is the canvas on which she paints the iris to match his original eye color.

And for the pupil

The little clear disc she is holding contains the pupil. It will be adhered to the iris.

The iris and pupil

The little peg will be used to pull the eye in and out during fitting.

The pink thing is a wax cast

The actual prosthesis will be just like it.

This is the ocularist’s nifty little blowtorch

Heat is used to shape and smooth the wax, and move the iris around. She would put the cast into his eye, check the placement of the iris, take it out and make adjustments to ensure the iris was pointed in a natural direction. She did this about 4 or 5 times. It was a very efficient process.

Time for the details

I did not get to see the process of creating the final prosthesis from the cast, but this is it. It is ready for my most favorite detail of all, the veins. Red, silk thread is used for the veins. The way the thread shreds and spreads gives an ideal representation of blood veins in the eye.

And now, the eye

During the night, the eye dried in an oven. The blue dot is for orientation (it is always at the top).

It was smoothed and polished to give it a natural appearance and comfortable fit

Despite popular opinion, artificial eyes are made from acrylic. Glass has not been used to make artificial eyes since World War II. Also, most people expect artificial eyes to be round like a marble. But most are actually sort of seashell shaped. This is because there is already a permanent implant in the back of the eye attached to the ocular muscles. The back of the prosthesis is shaped to rest against the implant and move just as a natural eye would.

She put it into his eye socket so quick that I didn’t get a pic. But here is Rich, sporting his new eye

Here is a close up

Rich was voted as “Most of Beautiful Eyes” in the 8th grade. Ironic but accurate.

Three weeks later… Would anyone ever guess it wasn’t real?

As you can see in the picture, his left eye has some scarring from previous eye surgeries. So his prosthetic eye is the more natural looking of the two.