Helen Heraty is one of life’s copers. While starring in a BBC4 documentary about her struggle to turn a run- down, listed building into a boutique hotel, her partner John died of a sudden heart attack aged 64.
“It was completely out of the blue and I don’t doubt for a minute it was all the stress we’d been through,” says Helen (55) who found the former architect collapsed while they were clearing out one of the rooms.
The cameras had been following the two for five years as they fought local planners to renovate the York hotel. Sadly, John died in 2012 before learning they’d won their legal battle over planning permission in 2013.
But not long afterwards, Helen was facing a major health challenge herself. After being short-sighted all her life, she had corrective laser surgery after turning 40 and recently started wearing reading glasses. But after John’s death, she was struggling to see to carry out the necessary hotel paperwork – and began to fear the worst.
“It was like wearing dirty glasses all the time. I just couldn’t see.”
Eventually, her daughter Rhiannon (26), made Helen seek help. After booking a routine check-up last year, she was shocked to discover she had an aggressive form of cataract in her right eye, the start of one in her left, and fast-failing sight. “The young optician seemed to take forever and I kept thinking ‘this isn’t normal, it’s a brain tumour’. I was almost relieved when he said cataracts,” recalls Helen.
But because they were aggressive, her vision was deteriorating rapidly and the treatment available after a wait on the NHS would be more complicated because of her previous laser treatment.
“I was virtually blind in my right eye and the left was getting worse almost on a daily basis. I had to stop driving and rely on family to help with hotel paperwork. It was terrifying.”
But then Helen was given hope after hearing about minimally invasive new laser surgery used to treat cataracts at the London Eye Hospital. LAL (Light Adjustable Lens) implants would not only save her sight, she would no longer need to wear glasses either.
Helen borrowed money from her family to pay the £16,000 cost and went ahead. Her first op, under local anaesthetic, was in December 2013 followed by a second three weeks later.
“I was nervous, but it didn’t hurt. When the bandages came off the next day it was incredible. Not only did I have focus but I hadn’t realised I couldn’t see colour any more – the sky was blue again!”
London Eye Hospital Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, Mr Saj Khan, said: “The procedure is minimally invasive and the whole operation is performed in a matter of minutes. The results will last for a lifetime, however, giving freedom from reading glasses and distance glasses without the glare and ‘halo’ problems associated with other implants.”
Back at work in York, Helen is busier than ever. The hotel is proving to be a popular venue for wedding receptions. Nine guest bedrooms are already in use and she hopes another two will be completed by the end of 2015.
“It’s hard work but the future’s bright again in more ways than one! It’s such a shame John didn’t live long enough to see it, but I know he’d be very proud of what we’ve achieved. We love the hotel and have created something remarkable. It’s wonderful; a real family business.”
Helen admits she does still have one problem that her revolutionary op hasn’t fixed. “Now I only need sunglasses – but I can still never find them when I need them!” she laughs.
For more about LAL lenses and the London Eye Hospital, visit www.londoneyehospital.com
Unfortunately, the lenses used at the London Eye hospital are not currently available on the NHS.
Cataracts – the symptoms
Cataracts are cloudy patches that develop in the lens of your eye and can cause blurred or misty vision. They often develop in both eyes, although each eye may be affected differently. Age-related cataracts are quite common and usually develop slowly over years but in some cases, such as Helen’s, they can be more aggressive. You will usually have blurred, cloudy or misty vision, or small spots or patches where your vision is less clear.
Other symptoms include:
- Finding it more difficult to see in dim or very bright light B Double vision
- Being dazzled or uncomfortable when looking at bright lights
- Colours look faded or less clear B Things have a yellow or brown tinge
- Seeing a halo around bright lights, such as car headlights or street lights
- If you notice any of these symptoms, see your optician.