Sight restored: First solid organ transplant surgery performed in Cumberland history

CROSSVILLE – Literally thousands of complex surgeries have been performed at a Fairfield Glade surgery center, but a January procedure was one for the record books.

Dr. Janis Holt, aided by her surgical team, performed a corneal transplant in the Plateau Surgery Center located within Cumberland Eye Care in Fairfield Glade, thought to be the first solid organ transplant in the history of Cumberland and surrounding counties. Until now, patients who needed corneal transplants traveled to major metropolitan areas to have their surgery and follow up care.

Since joining Cumberland Eye care in December 2013, Holt has twice performed this procedure for two local residents who had lost their sight. During the nearly hour- long surgery, Holt removed a small portion of the patient’s cornea, later replacing it with a patch of circular shaped donor tissue about the thickness of paper and smaller in diameter than a U.S. dime.

The cornea is the transparent, dome- shaped, outermost layer that covers the iris and pupil in the front of the eye. It acts as the entry point for light into the eye. When light strikes the cornea, it is bent, or refracted, onto the lens. Next, the lens refocuses the light onto the retina, a layer of light-sensing cells lining the back of the eye.

Until a few years ago, patients with diseases of the cornea required an extensive surgery where the entire cornea was replaced. Newer techniques, like the one performed by Holt, allow the surgeon to replace only a thin layer of the cornea.

Unlike earlier procedures, such as a full- thickness corneal transplant, this surgery was performed with only a single suture. In the immediate post operative period, the newly transplanted corneal tissue is held in position with an air bubble placed inside the eye. Within a few days, the transplant bonds to neighboring tissue and the air is slowly absorbed by the patient’s eye.

Most patients recover functional vision in a few months as opposed to up to a year with full-thickness corneal transplants. While a few dozen patients a year would benefit from the procedure, including some from outside the Upper Cumberland area, Holt said hundreds benefit from being able to see a cornea specialist locally rather than traveling to Knoxville or Nashville.

Holt is a practiced medical doctor who specializes in comprehensive eye care as well as cataract surgery and corneal transplantation. Prior to joining Cumberland Eye Care, she served as a clinical assistant professor at the University of Florida Department of Ophthalmology in Gainesville, Fla. During her tenure there, she started a cornea service at the V.A. Medical Center of North Florida and South Georgia.

Holt received her doctor of medicine from Saint Louis University School of Medicine in 2001. She completed her training in ophthalmology at the University of Florida and went on to specialize in corneal transplantation at Washington University in St. Louis.

Holt has seven specific ophthalmic certifications and has authored more than a dozen academic and research papers. She and her husband, Doug, reside in Fairfield Glade.

“Cumberland Eye Care has been steadily growing for 13 years,” Holt said. “I see that opportunity to grow in a surrounding that I like.”

Dr. Stewart Galloway established Cumberland Eye Care in 2000; it was the first medical practice to locate in Fairfield Glade. Plateau Surgery Center followed in 2009. Both facilities are located at 57 Fairfield Boulevard in Fairfield Glade. The medical practice and surgery center serve thousands of patients from Cumberland County and surrounding areas yearly – in 2013, there were more than 4,500 cataract surgeries in Fairfield Glade and Crossville.

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