The master artisan changing lives one eyeball at a time

The master artisan changing lives one eyeball at a time

The master artisan changing lives one eyeball at a time

Updated 23 August 2017, 11:10 AEST

Hayley Moore was born partially blind with an underdeveloped eyeball.

Jenny Geelen grew up with her kitchen table covered in eyeballs, thanks to her mother.

After following in her footsteps, she now proudly counts herself as one of a dozen specialists in Australia crafting acrylic, artificial eyes and changing lives in the process.

Ms Geelen admits it is an obscure profession, but it continues to be a family affair. Her mother started the clinic in Perth, and Jenny, her brother Paul, and his daughter, Emily, have all followed suit.

"Mum used to bring the eyes home and make them on the kitchen table after dinner, so we were around it from our teenage years," Ms Geelen said.

There is no degree available for ocularists, and training is only available through a four-year apprenticeship. But the difference they can make to a life is considerable.

'The eye is never holding you back'

Twelve-year-old Hayley Moore was born partially blind with an under-developed eye — microphthalmia — and has been going to Ms Geelen for prosthetic eyes since she was three years old.

"It feels no different from the other one, it feels like a normal eye," she said. "I still play really good netball; it doesn't affect me at all."

Hayley said she rarely got teased about her eye and most of her classmates saw it as normal.

She is now working with Ms Geelen to set up a support group through her school for other young people with artificial eyes.

"It's about encouraging people around my age to do what you want to do, and there is nothing holding you back," she said.

"If they have an eye like me, [you have] to never be afraid to go out in the world and do amazing stuff, because the eye is never holding you back."

'Boxes of old, stock eyes'

Now, Ms Geelen is looking to train others in the craft, in areas where it is most needed.

Timor-Leste's first ocularist, Filipe Soares, is one of the first to benefit in a country where patients are often held back by cheap, artificial eyes.

She said before she started running clinics in Dili, people had no choice but to have a mass-produced fake eye.

"They had a couple of boxes of old stock eyes, they'd just take one out of a box and see which one fitted best," she said.

Mr Soares said when he first started making the prosthetic eyes he was not very confident, but he persevered and now has patients lining up to thank him.

"I try to do very well because no one else can do it," he said. "So I believe in myself and I say in my heart I can do that and now I feel very, very confident."

With Timor-Leste now enjoying high-quality eyeballs for the first time, Ms Geelen is looking further afield to other areas of need.

"Now he has it under control, I'll have to broaden my horizons and maybe take on Rwanda, Papua New Guinea or Nepal," she said.