Coleraine man James Campbell talks for the first time about life-changing eye surgery

James Campbell has recovered from major eye surgery.
James Campbell has recovered from major eye surgery.

For some people waking up in the morning with blurred vision is a momentary irritation, but for one fire fighter from Coleraine, it changed his life.

In June 2012 James Campbell, 47, felt there was something odd going on with his left eye.

A trip to Specsavers in Coleraine with his wife Fiona turned out to be more serious that he had ever imagined.

A dad to Shannon (14) and a fire fighter with Portrush Fire and Rescue Service, James recalled: “I thought nothing of it and went in for a test on my eye, my wife went into town shopping and I was to meet up with her, the first I knew something was wrong was when the optician asked me what my plans were for that day.

“I was told I had to get my wife and go straight to Altnagelvin Hospital for further tests.”

Those tests revealed that James had a choroidal melanoma, arising from the blood vessel beneath the retina. James said his mind went blank and he thought ‘Why me?’, but also took the attitude of ‘let’s get on with it’.

As Northern Ireland does not have a specialist eye cancer surgery hospital James was given the option of going to Birmingham or Liverpool.

He decided on Royal Liverpool University Hospital (RLUH) as he was familiar with the city and it was closer to home. This was just the beginning of a series of huge decisions for James.

After a nervous two week wait for an appointment James and Fiona set off for Liverpool in July 2012.There, James met with what he described as the most straight talking man he ever met, Professor Bertil Damato, a world renowned ocular cancer surgeon.

Professor Damato explained the way forward to James very simply: remove the eye and the cancer, try platelets and radiotherapy, or undergo surgery to remove the tumour and save the eye. James discussed the situation with his wife and decided to go forward with the surgery to remove the tumour.

His anaesthetist explained that there was a 15 per cent chance of dying from eye surgery, due to dangerously low blood pressure.

James told the anaesthetist: “I’m willing to risk the loss of my eye to be here to see my daughter getting married.”

The following morning James went in for his life changing surgery. Professor Damato and his team of six successfully operated on James for eight hours.

James has so many people he would like to thank from the NHS staff at Altnagelvin Hospital, Royal University Hospital Liverpool, his surgeon Professor Damato, Macmillan Cancer Support, the staff at Specsavers Coleraine, his work colleagues and family and friends.

“I would like to bring the issue to the attention of the public that if they see anything untoward I would certainly recommend that they get it checked, no matter how small the problem might seem.

“You don’t realise how important your eyesight is until you are in that position I was in. I have released all my medical documents to Specsavers in regards to my case in the hope that it will help the staff identify problems in other people’s eyes, using my experience as a case study.”

James spent ten days in Royal Liverpool University Hospital recovering from the major surgery and has now made an almost full recovery, with just a few minor side effects.

“I’m not fully back to normal, I live with permanent stitches in my left eye and I can still fell them, but I’ve got used to them.

“The peripheral vision in my left eye is still affected and will never be right. It hasn’t affected my work as a fire fighter and I feel in great health.

“I have the abnormal chromosome therefore there is a risk of cancer returning so I have my eyes checked out every three months, and I have been given a three-year clearance from Liverpool.

“I can think too much about it coming back or worry about the future, I just enjoy every minute I have and get on with my life now.”

Store director Judith Ball, of Specsavers, says: ““James’s case really does highlight the need for looking after your eye health. We advise all our customers to get their eyes tested every two years or more frequently if recommended by your opticians.However if they’re experiencing any problems like James, then they should contact us without delay.”