‘Miracles Still Happen’: After Nearly Losing His Eye, Conway Man Sees Clearly Again

By Benjamin Waldrum

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Before the accident, Richie was a licensed electrician working 60 to 70 hours a week.Jeremy Richie

Richie, 44, of Conway, said he feels like he has a new lease on life.

“I want to be there for people, and let them know that miracles still happen and that life is precious,” Richie said. “I took my vision for granted, and when I lost it, it was bad. I just want to show people that’s life’s good and that it should be cherished and lived to its fullest.”

Sami Uwaydat, M.D., an ophthalmologist with the Eye Institute and a professor of ophthalmology at the UAMS College of Medicine, was one of several specialists involved in Richie’s care following the accident. Richie’s turnaround has been remarkable, he said.

“The person you see now is not the same person who first came to us,” Uwaydat said. “He turned his life around, and we are so happy for him.”

“I Knew It Was Bad”

Richie has always been a hard worker. Before the accident, he was a licensed electrician working 60 to 70 hours a week. So October 28, 2019, started out as a typical day, installing ceiling lights at a local hospital.

Some ceiling lights are held in place by a set of springs and screws so that they don’t fall. These come hooked together and need to be split apart to install properly. Richie was standing on a ladder, working to unhook a set of springs, when one flew back at his face. Unfortunately, his safety googles were on top of his head when it happened.

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Richie needed 24 to 26 stitches, multiple follow-up surgeries and a special contact lens to save his sight.Jeremy Richie

“The arm of one of them flung out and stabbed me in my left eye,” Richie said. “I knew it was bad when it happened. Everything went white. I got some help, and they took me to the hospital.”

The damage was extensive, piercing through multiple layers of Richie’s left eye.

The cornea is the outer layer of the eye. Next is the sclera, or white of the eye, which has the colored iris in the middle. Behind the iris is the lens, and the retina is the back of the eye. The hook tore through the cornea, the iris, the lens and punctured the retina.

“He had a wire go through the cornea and lens, and it ruptured the back of his eye,” Uwaydat said. “The protruding hook was probably an inch and a half to 2 inches long.”

The average length of a human eye is approximately 1.5 inches.

“The injury pushed my focal lens through the back of my eye,” Richie said. “When I woke up [in the emergency room] after the X-rays, they told me there was something in my eyeball at the back of my skull. It was my focal lens.”

When Richie lost all sight in his left eye, it had both immediate and lingering effects. Without a second eye, he had no depth perception. Soon after, he was out of a job. He developed frequent headaches. It wasn’t long before he was in a deep depression.

“I’ve always had great vision; it was never an issue,” Richie said. “When this happened, it was rough. It really slowed my life down. It caused me to be more clumsy, and I’m a little clumsy anyway. Professionally, really I didn’t know what I was going to do as an electrician with no depth perception. I started drinking. I got a DWI. Things just started to spiral way downhill.”

“I just had a lot of worry and anxiety over what I was going to do,” he added. “I was making good money, working hard, and just that one mistake almost destroyed my life. Luckily, Jones Eye was there for me. I am grateful for them, I truly am. I try to live it and show it every day.”

“I Got My Vision Back”

At the emergency room, Richie received 24 to 26 stitches in the front of his eye. Everything was holding together, but if he wanted to regain his vision, he needed specialty care. That’s when he came to the Jones Eye Institute at UAMS.

Uwaydat Brown Warner

It took a team at Jones Eye to save Richie’s sight, including (from left) Sami Uwaydat, M.D., Katie Brown, O.D., and David Warner, M.D.

“It took a team effort to take care of Mr. Richie’s injury,” Uwaydat said. “It was very challenging, given how many surgeries it required and how many follow-ups he needed.”

In all there were four surgeries: one to repair the cornea, another to remove his damaged lens and repair the retina, one more to remove scar tissue, and the last one to insert a new lens.

“I could’ve gotten a cornea replacement, but that’s a more complicated procedure than getting a lens replacement, which is pretty common,” Richie said. “So that’s what we did. Dr. Uwaydat encouraged me to get the surgery, and I did it, and it’s been one of the best things that’s happened to me. Dr. Uwaydat is good. He is just really good.”

“These [focal] lenses are made of a special plastic, and it’s the same thing we use for all of our cataract surgery patients,” Uwaydat said. “His had to be a special one, because trauma destroyed the structures in his eye that holds the lens. So we had to put in a special lens for him.”

Richie also wears a contact lens every day, fitted for him by optometric physician Katie Brown, O.D. He has follow-ups every three months to receive a new lens.

“It was a big thing because I went and got this contact made especially for my eye, and I got my vision back,” Richie said. “I see maybe 20/50 [in my left eye] without my extra contact in there. With the contact, I see 20/20, which is huge compared to what it was.”

“His vision now is as close to normal as it can be,” Uwaydat said.

Richie’s success story of regaining near-normal vision in his damaged eye is thanks to a collaborative effort involving many Eye Institute specialists and staff, Uwaydat said.

“Three of us were involved in his care: me to repair the lens and the retina, Dr. [David] Warner to fix the cornea, and Dr. Brown to fit him with the special contact lens,” Uwaydat said. “Personally, I’d like to stress the team effort that resulted in the favorable outcome, including the work of our residents, technicians and nurses.”

“Life Is Good” Since Recovery

It’s been a long journey for Richie since the initial injury, but today, he’s in a good place. He’s back to working 60-hour weeks, now as a factory maintenance technician. It’s a job that still requires a lot of focus and good eyesight.

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Not long after his injury, Richie found Rockk, his Jack Russell-beagle mix. “He is my everything,” Richie said.Jeremy Richie

“I work on the machines that make the parts, like metal-cutting lasers, welders, any machinery,” Richie said. “I’m an electrician by trade, but they made me a technician, and I’ve learned how to troubleshoot and keep machines running.”

“For a long time, I didn’t think I was going to be able to go back to being an electrician, or anything in that field,” he added. “I told my dad I was going to go do women’s hair.”

His work schedule doesn’t leave many opportunities for hobbies, but Richie said he does like to fish and bow hunt when he has the chance. He also spends as much time as he can visiting his parents and his children. His son attends the University of Arkansas Community College in Morrilton, and his daughter attends Purdue University in Indiana.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, not long after his injury, Richie also found Rockk, his Jack-Russell-beagle mix who has become his constant companion.

“He is my everything,” Richie said. “I spend a lot of time with him. He’s kind of been my saving grace through all of this. I used to take him everywhere when I was injured with my eye. He was my everything then, and I’m trying to pay it back now. I spoil him a little bit. He’s my guy.”

Richie said his quality of life has actually improved significantly since the injury.

“Without having anything going on, I have a lot going on,” Richie said. “Trying to make it for the first time in five years. Living on my own, maintaining a good career, going to church, being a good citizen, and being grateful for everything I’ve been able to do.”

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Richie today. His eye is sensitive to strong light, but he can see clearly.Evan Lewis

Uwaydat and everyone on Richie’s eye care team have been just as happy with his progress.

“We are very happy to see the effort paid off,” Uwaydat said. “It is very rewarding to see someone who walks into the emergency room, and you’re not sure if he is going to keep the eye, and then four years later he has almost normal vision in that eye. So this is very, very satisfying.”

Richie is keeping it all in perspective, looking ahead and trying to pay it forward.

“I was ready for a new beginning, and I feel like God gave me my sight back to see how good I would do — to give me a second chance, and I ran with it,” he said. “I’ve really grown a lot, both spiritually and as a person and a man, and I’m grateful for it.”

“I’m very blessed. Life is good, and I owe a lot to Jones Eye.”