Norwich woman transforms lives through work making artificial eyes
- Credit: Danielle Booden
When a Norwich woman first started her career she didn't expect to become one of 30 people in the country who can make eyes.
Samantha Mizzi's path to becoming an ocularist began with a degree in dentist technology, and the 34-year-old thought she would be making teeth "for the rest of her life".
The degree has four areas of study including dentures, crown and bridges, orthodontics and maxilofacial prosthetics, which includes making silicon facial features, such as noses and ears as well as fingers.
After applying for a job in maxilofacial prosthetics, the 34-year-old found out about the work of ocularists - someone who makes artificial eyes - and applied for a position at Moorfield Eye Hospital in London.
Miss Mizzi said: "It's an amazing feeling to know how very few of us there are in the country with one of those skills that can do it. It's not a job I set out to do, I almost fell into it.
"There's a maximum of 30 people that can specialise in eyes and make them from start to finish, it's a very niche sort of area."
The role is often taught in-house and during her five years at Moorfield Eye Hospital Miss Mizzi made between 40 to 45 eyes a month.
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She began working at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in 2017, where she combines her skills in maxilofacial prosthetics and making eyes.
As an ocularist she predominantly works with trauma patients or those that have lost their eye due to a disease, such as cancer, and said it was important to help them feel like themselves again.
For trauma patients especially, the impact of losing their eye can have a psychological and emotional effect, she said.
She said: "For a perfect example one patient came out of their house, fell on the ice and a twig went straight through their eye. That was it, that eye was gone. It took us several times to get that eye how she felt that eye was correct.
"I can make a perfect eye, I can make a lovely eye, but it's all about the patient accepting that as well.
"Cancer patients or disease patients are told from the start that [losing an eye] is a possibility and so it's a slow process. They will get used to the fact they may lose their eye and two or three years down the line they have lost the eye.
"They will have time to adjust psychologically to that, trauma patients do not have that time because it was there yesterday, gone today."
She also creates "character eyes" for young patients, with details including their name or which are based on characters like The Flash and Batman, or popular games such as Minecraft.
She said: "It's a little bit of fun. What you have to realise is that when children go to school with an artificial eye they can sort of get bullied, but with a character eye everyone thinks they are cool."
The process to make the eye begins with meeting the patient and taking an impression of their eye socket to create a wax pattern, using a technique that can be dated back to Michael Angelo.
Using a range of high-tech machinery, she carves, bathes and polishes the disc, which is around 1mm thick, before painting the iris, which is sandwiched between two layers of acrylic. Miss Mizzi likes to have a second meeting with patients to ensure they are happy with the eye.
She said even though a person loses an eye, they do not become automatically partially sighted as their natural eye finds way to adjust, with the natural eye turning in to expand the person's periphery or turning their head to widen their vision.
Miss Mizzi said: "There is no limit to wearing an artificial eye, you can still drive your car, you can still do everything normally that you could do, you just have to be a bit more wary.
"Most patients when they first have the eye removed is they have trouble judging distance, pouring yourself a cup of tea, a glass of water, walking downstairs, those can be difficult at first, but it is amazing how the brain adjusts to that."
The ocularist also helped raise more than £12,500 pounds for the John Fawcett Foundation, to help set up a laboratory at its complex in Indonesia as part of its work providing sight restoration, blindness prevention, children's corrective surgery and making prosthetic eyes.