A man who waited 38 years for medical science to advance enough to reverse blindness caused by
severe chemical burns got his lifelong wish this spring when eye surgeons at UC Davis School of Medicine
and Medical Center implanted an artificial cornea and lens in his right eye.
The successful sight-restoring procedure is among the first in California and among only 250 artificial
corneal procedures ever performed in the United States.
In an emotional office visit at UC Davis on the day after his surgery, the bandage over Nikon Sandulyak's
right eye was removed, and he saw his adult daughter, Olena, whom he hasn't seen since she was 5 years
"It is a miracle. I thank God and I thank the United States," said Sandulyak, a former veterinarian
from Odessa, Ukraine, who moved to Carmichael, Calif., with his wife in 2003 to be near his two daughters,
who are physicians getting recertified at UC Davis and Stanford.
Speaking through a Russian interpreter, he said: "For the past 38 years, I have seen nothing. Now
I can see everything. I am surrounded by beautiful colors and people. I am ecstatic!"
Blinded in 1966 while working with lye, he never gave up hope that one day he would see. Over the next
38 years his search for treatment led him to the best clinics and specialists in Russia, but none could
guarantee that his vision would improve even 1 percent. So he waited, working as a massage therapist at
a local clinic and keeping track of the latest advances in eye care. When his daughters came to the United
States, he and his wife obtained visas to join them.
In October 2003, he met with renowned corneal specialist Mark Mannis, professor and chair of ophthalmology
at UC Davis School of Medicine and author of the definitive textbook on diseases of the cornea. He deemed
Sandulyak a perfect candidate to receive a relatively new and very promising artificial cornea. The device
he received, developed by Harvard ophthalmologist Claes Dohlman, is one of only two artificial corneas
available in the United States. A group of corneal specialists at several teaching hospitals like UC Davis
are working together to make this cornea more available.
"For 200 years ophthalmologists have aspired to perfect an artificial cornea to reverse blindness,"
said Mannis, an ophthalmologist who has treated thousands of patients with complex corneal disease over
his 24-year career. "Refinements in device design, combined with better drug therapy and long-term
follow-up care, is improving outcomes, making artificial corneas a viable option for patients with scarred
corneas who cannot receive traditional corneal transplants. These include patients with alkali burns to
the cornea, like Mr. Sandulyak, as well as those with autoimmune and other disorders that scar the cornea.
Patients who have had multiple failed corneal transplants may also benefit from the artificial corneal