Gibraltar’s first human corneal transplant was performed on the 19th March 2021. GHA Consultant Ophthalmologist, Dr Magdalena Popiela, carried out the surgery together with the GHA ophthalmic nursing team at St Bernard’s Hospital.

The GHA’s Ophthalmic Department, under the lead of Dr Popiela, worked closely with Venice Eye Bank in Italy to source the corneal donor tissue. Departmental Ophthalmic Charge Nurse, Robert Perez, was also instrumental in ensuring the delivery of the corneal donor tissue from Venice to Gibraltar in 24 hours, with the help of HM Customs and DHL Gibraltar, for the surgery to take place as planned.

Corneal transplants are required when corneal disease causes reduction in vision. In the past, such transplants have been undertaken in the UK. Depending on the type of transplant, visual recovery can take up to anything between 6 weeks to 2 years. Patients would have had to remain in the UK for a few weeks immediately after surgery and attend fairly frequent follow-ups thereafter. Since the visual recovery takes some time on multiple occasions, patients would have needed to travel with blurry vision until full recovery is complete.

Consultant Ophthalmologist, Dr Magdalena Popiela, said: “This milestone achievement for the GHA’s ophthalmic department makes patients’ treatment more accessible with no need to travel to the UK, which is of particular benefit given the pandemic situation. Gibraltar’s first corneal graft patient is recovering well from the surgery under close supervision of the eye department at St Bernard’s Hospital”.

Minister for Health, Samantha Sacramento MP, said: “I am hugely proud of the GHA having achieved this tremendous progress. It seems incredible that we are now able to offer this surgery at home by repatriating this service, our patients can feel safe and comfortable and the burden of travel is no longer necessary. I would like to thank everyone involved in making this a reality. This achievement is a first for the GHA and is one that Gibraltar should be immensely proud of.