UK eye surgeons have saved the sight of a 16-year-old boy using laser treatment inspired by “tongue and groove” floor boards.

James Bowden was facing blindness after suffering from an eye condition called Keratoconus, which occurs when the cornea of the eye becomes cone-shaped as a result of thinning layers near the center of the eye.

The condition is progressive and usually begins at puberty, causing blurred sight, double vision and even blindness.

The seriousness of Bowden’s condition was extremely rare at his age. He was unable to watch television or socialize unaided, and he was on the verge of giving up sports for good.

But surgeons at the UK’s Centre for Sight hospital in East Grinstead decided to perform a laser-assisted corneal graft, called a Femtosecond laser Deep Anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DLEK), on one of James’ eyes, resulting in a full return of his sight on that eye. This makes him the youngest patient in the UK to undergo this procedure.

The surgery was carried out using lasers as opposed to metal blades, which the surgeons say vastly improves the fit of the graft, the strength of the wound and the patients visual recovery. The graft was inspired by “tongue and groove” floor boards – where the boards fit together like a jigsaw – increasing accuracy in the graft.

Sheraz Daya, medical director and consultant eye surgeon at the Centre for Sight, explains:

“The Femtosecond laser Deep Anterior lamellar keratoplasty is a way to perform the procedure using laser and forming geometric tongue and groove type incisions. These incisions allow the graft to slot into the host cornea perfectly and with good mechanical strength.”

Because the operation had increased accuracy and the laser’s speed was faster compared to the blades, the operation could be performed under local anesthetic, so Bowden was discharged the same day. He is waiting for a full recovery before surgery goes ahead on the second eye.

Daya adds: “The use of this type of laser during surgery meant that we were able to dramatically improve James’ experience during the procedure and reduce his recovery time. We were delighted with how James’ operation went and his recovery time, thanks to this method, has been reduced from around a year, to just three months.”

The boy’s mother, Stephanie Bowden, says: “The most difficult part of James’ loss of sight was his loss of independence. It was heart-breaking for me to see him unable to do the same as his friends. He is particularly sporty and having to face the possibility that he might have to give up rugby and cricket was devastating for him.

“We now have so much to look forward to as a family. We are soon emigrating to America where James will continue further education. He’s recovering brilliantly and his sight in one eye is almost completely restored.”

The first DLEK surgery was carried out in the US in 2000 on two patients suffering from pseudophakia with Fuchs’ endothelical dystrophy, a corneal cell disease.