When Dwayne Collins’ daughter Liberty was born with a rare eye condition, they struggled to find a prosthetic eye that didn’t cause her pain. So Dwayne took matters into his own hands.
Liberty Collins was born with microphthalmia, which causes partial blindness and left her with one eye significantly smaller than the other. She was in immediate need of a prosthesis, as the pressure from the eyes assists with facial growth during early childhood. A prosthetic eye is not just cosmetic – without one, the face doesn’t grow evenly. After two years of visiting clinics in Australia and New Zealand, the family struggled to find a prosthetic eye that fit Liberty properly. One fitting was so traumatising, Liberty almost passed out.
'What if I made an eye for Liberty myself, only better?' Dwayne Collins
That’s when Dwayne, a former oil rig worker with no previous medical experience, found a YouTube video from John Pacey-Lowrie, a renowned British ocularist, which detailed his process of making prosthetic eyes. Dwayne watched the video on repeat, and after setting up his own makeshift clinic inside the shed in his back garden, he started to practise.
The job of an ocularist is somewhat of a fine art, requiring an alchemy of mechanical skill, painstaking attention to detail and artistry. It’s not enough to simply craft a prosthesis that fits – the goal is to make it look as flawless as possible.
'If I don’t share my knowledge, what was the point of gaining it?' John Pacey-Lowrie
The method John teaches in his videos is unique. He starts by taking an impression of the eye socket, and then shapes the implant out of wax using a similar method dentists use for prosthetic teeth.
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The iris is painted by hand, one stroke at a time, and the veins are crafted using a piece of silk cotton thread. The entire process from start to finish takes three days. John continues to broadcast what he’s learned on YouTube, to inspire the ocularist community and draw more people into the field.
It took Dwayne six months of training on his own before he was able to craft a beautiful prosthetic eye that he felt was good enough for Liberty. After this initial success, he decided to turn this newfound passion of eye making into a profession, spending his life savings training as John’s apprentice in the UK.
'I want to change the way the patient is dealt with. And I don’t want other kids to go through the hell Liberty did', Dwayne says.