Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Thanks to his sister, Tori, Taylor Binns has his vision back after a stem-cell transplant from her left eye.

J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail

Taylor Binns was nearly blind by the time he met Allan Slomovic this fall at Toronto Western Hospital. A rare, extremely painful disorder that damages stem cells in the cornea had blurred his vision. Sometimes it felt as if he was being stabbed in the eyes with a knife.

But the fourth-year commerce student at Queen's University in Kingston is celebrating the gift of sight this holiday season thanks to his kid sister, Tori, and a new stem cell transplant program started by Dr. Slomovic and his colleagues.

Tori, 19, donated stem cells from her left eye for the operation, which took place Nov. 30. Before the surgery, Mr. Binns couldn't see the big "E" on the top of the eye chart. Now, his vision is good enough to drive a vehicle, read street signs and, for the first time, see his girlfriend. As well, his pain has been greatly reduced.

Story continues below advertisement

"It is the greatest gift. I couldn't ask for anything better. I can't explain how much it means to me, what Tori did," said the 23-year-old.

Mr. Binns was the first patient in a program that could eventually help several dozen people a year. It means Ontario patients who need stem-cell transplants will no longer have to travel to a specialized clinic in Cincinnati for the procedure.

His eyes became sore and red 3 1/2 years ago during a trip to Haiti to build a school and repair a hospital. His vision became increasingly blurry, the pain more intense However, it took more than three years to get the correct diagnosis - stem-cell deficiency. The stem cells that replenish the corneas and keep them clear had been destroyed or damaged.

"The cornea is the watch glass of the eye. It is what you look through in order to see," said Dr. Slomovic.

Without stem cells to keep it healthy, the cornea becomes cloudy and can get pockmarked with abrasions and painful ulcers.

In Mr. Binns's case, the damage to the stem cells was caused by wearing contact lenses, said Dr. Slomovic.

"It can occur but it is very rare," he said. Normally, stem-cell deficiency results from an industrial accident, from getting acid in the eyes, for example. The condition is debilitating, and can leave patients blind, in pain, and often unable to work. In the case of Mr. Binns, his left eye was far worse than his right one.

Story continues below advertisement

It is possible to do the surgery with tissue from the eye bank, but there is a better chance of success if stem cells come from a sibling. Doctors at Toronto Western determined that Ms. Binns was a perfect match. She didn't hesitate.

"I don't know how he managed it for this long. We are really happy for him, that he can finally live again. He was on every sports team, the captain of everything. For once, I can help him out," said Ms. Binns, the youngest of three children.

She recently moved from the family home in Orillia, Ont., to Toronto, where she is working at an upscale hair salon. She said she didn't feel nervous until two or three seconds before the procedure, which was done once her left eye was frozen with a local anesthetic.

Dr. Slomovic removed stem cells and a small amount of tissue and put them in a Petri dish.

Then he and his colleagues performed surgery on Mr. Binns's left eye. First, Dr. Slomovic removed scar tissue. It came off like a sheet, a promising sign. Then he used very fine stitches and special glue to attach the new tissue in place. The surgery was done under the microscope.

Now, the new stem cells are helping Mr. Binns' left eye work properly.

Story continues below advertisement

"It was weird getting used to seeing again," he said.

Dr. Slomovic expected that Mr. Binns would also require a corneal transplant, but it looks like that won't be the case. But to prevent rejection, he will have to take drugs that suppress his immune system for several years. He may also need a second transplant to fix his right eye, which still causes him pain.

Dr. Slomovic said the new program is a collaborative effort with colleagues on the kidney transplant team, who have the expertise on anti-rejection drugs and can offer presurgical counselling for donors about the risks of the surgery.

Edward Cole, who helped set up the new transplant program, cautions that with only one surgery performed so far, it is too early to call it a success.

"We hope things continue to go well, but it is way too early to declare victory," said Dr. Cole, who is also Physician-in-Chief of the University Health Network.

But it feels like a victory for Mr. Binns and for his sister, who has recovered from her surgery. The star rugby player can think about playing competitive sports again and has started applying to law schools. He is looking forward to being able to study without using giant-size text on his computer and to being able to focus on a screen for more than 45 minutes without getting a severe headache.

Story continues below advertisement

"It is amazing to be able to see again."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies