A mother is looking for a way to emigrate to the UK after a parasite from her contact lens blinded her eyes.
An Australian mum has been left paralysed and blinded by a parasite lurking in her contact lens. The woman has vowed to emigrate to Britain, for free NHS treatment so as to save her life.
The Sun UK revealed that the woman identified as Claire Wilkinson, 38, who has also been left bald, plans to move 10,000 miles from her native Brisbane, in Queensland, to seek residency in the UK – so she can be treated at London’s world-renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital.
The former doctor’s receptionist has been battling the acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) parasite for a decade.
She said: “As soon as my youngest child finishes school, my husband and I plan to leave Australia and try and get free NHS treatment. I cannot live with my eye like it is.
“If someone said your condition could be improved by knocking on 10 million doors and asking for a dollar from each person, I would get walking.”
Narrating her ordeal, Claire said it all started in February 2007, with a simple itch in her left eye.
This triggered a chain of events which left her blind, bald and bed-bound for months, unable to go out in the light, and with feet swollen to nearly twice their normal size.
That morning, Claire put her contact lenses in like usual. It wasn’t until half an hour later, when she got into work, that she started to feel pain in her left eye.
“The doctor had eye drops, so I popped those in,” she said.
“But the pain got worse and worse. I’ve been through childbirth, I’ve dislocated my knee repeatedly – but this pain was 100 times what I experienced with both.”
Racing home, Claire – who is step-mum to Lachlan, 19, and mum to Connor, 15, and Abbee-Louise, 13 – contacted her husband, David Rochford, 44, who is now her full-time carer.
“I was in such agony I wanted to die,” she said. “It felt like shards of glass were ripping through my eye.”
From then on, even the slightest amount of light caused Claire unbearable trauma.
If she went out, she wore sunglasses and a towel over her head.
Visiting a local GP, Claire was diagnosed with the common eye infection conjunctivitis – an inflammation of the outermost layer of the eye.
“I knew it wasn’t that,” she recalled. “I knew conjunctivitis wasn’t meant to be that painful.”
To her horror, later that night, she felt something crawling across her eye.
“That was agony,” she said. “Then, later, it stopped. It was the parasite. I could tell when it was awake and when it was snoozing.”
After four days, Claire finally saw an eye specialist at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Queensland, where a layer of her cornea was scraped off and it was confirmed she had the acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) parasite in her left eye.
Claire said she was mortified to be told she had a parasite, adding: “I couldn’t believe it.
“But The B**** went on to have parasite babies in my eye. It was disgusting.”
In a bid to kill the parasite, which had eaten into her cornea and optic nerve, Claire was given strong, chlorine-based eye drops – to use every 15 minutes, 24/7, for seven weeks.
“They caused agonising ulcers to my left eye,” said explained.
“On top of that I was exhausted. I had to just lie in the dark, as the drops made being in the light painful.
“After two weeks, I was so tired I could barely stand.
“So, I went to stay at my mum Carron’s house nearby. She would drop them in my eye in the night, so I didn’t have to get up.”
Ten months later, the parasite returned, but the same eye drop treatment appeared to make it go.
At the Princess Alexandra Hospital in 2008 she also had injections in the affected eye – aimed at numbing it, so she was no longer in pain.
Despite the parasite appearing to have gone, Claire was still experiencing relentless pain.
A cornea transplant had failed and she was taking 38 tablets a day, together with pain relief injections every few hours.
“Because of the parasite eating my eye, I’d been diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia – extreme and sudden facial pain,” she said.
“It has been described as one of the most painful conditions known.”
Desperate to be pain-free, she was delighted to be offered brain surgery in 2011, at the Princess Alexandra – where medics planned to cut the nerves to her face, paralysing it, and finally stopping her agony.
But during surgery, she suffered a stroke. “There was a one in 10,000 risk of this happening and the hospital was blameless,” she added. “I was just unlucky.
“But, for months after the stroke, I was paralysed and bed-bound. I couldn’t eat. It was horrible for my children, seeing their mum bed-bound and tube fed.”
Following intensive physiotherapy, gradually, in early 2012, she learned to walk again. But, her extreme trauma made her hair fall out and her stroke caused her feet to swell.
Worse still, despite being far from cured, and the parasite having gone, Claire has been told there is no further treatment available for her in Australia.
“I’ve been told the technology isn’t available,” Claire said.
“But, I’m hopeful, there might be in London. I know of an operation in London which they wouldn’t perform in Australia but I am hopeful would cure me of pain.
“My daughter will be leaving school in four years and afterwards we intend to move to the UK. It’s a big move, but I would do anything to get better.”
Claire’s contact lenses were later recalled over safety fears, while she received a six-figure pay-out out-of-court.