Boy blinded in acid attack to see again

Articles by Uri Geller

Readers help boy blinded in acid attack to see again

Readers help boy blinded in acid attack to see again

By Harry de Quetteville in Athens
(Filed: 09/05/2004)

Two years after he was blinded in an acid attack, a Pakistani boy can see again, thanks to readers of The Telegraph whose generous donations allowed him to have surgery in Greece.

Abid Tanoli was 14 when a religious teacher at his seminary in Karachi and three other men attacked him as a punishment for refusing the teacher’s sexual advances. The acid caused devastating burns to Abid’s face, neck and upper body; melting away skin and searing through tissues of both eyes.

He was left helpless and with no apparent hope of regaining any vision. The necessary treatment was not available in Pakistan, and Abid’s family could not afford to go abroad. Sunday Telegraph readers stepped in, however, touched by the newspaper’s accounts of the attack, and sent money.

The donations, including substantial help from Uri Geller, allowed Abid to fly to Athens a little over two weeks ago, where specialists at the Laservision clinic offered him free treatment. Airport officials in Pakistan were reluctant to let him on the plane, refusing to believe that the young man hiding behind sunglasses could be the same boy whose picture stared out from his passport. It was a transformation that the boy’s family had to come to terms with. His father, Haroon Tanoli, had become Abid’s shadow, as determined to see his son’s attackers punished as he was to have the boy see again. Three of the four attackers are in jail, awaiting trial for attempted murder and rape.

“I want to thank everyone who has made this possible,” Mr Tanoli said. “It is honestly like a dream for us.”

That Abid can see at all is little short of miraculous. The acid burnt away his eyelids, and on his left eye fused the cornea, iris and lens into one lump – damage that had been considered beyond repair.

In a hospital outside Athens, however, during nine hours of surgery, Dr Kanellopoulos removed the frozen tissue and replaced it with a plastic prosthesis.

A plastic surgeon took skin from behind Abid’s left ear, and used it to reconstruct the eyelids of his left eye. A day later, Abid was able to count fingers a foot away from his face. With time and treatment, his doctors hope that his vision will improve.

“These procedures are extremely risky,” said Dr Kanellopoulos. “They can improve his vision but they could also destroy it. We must take things very slowly.” That caution deterred the team from performing the same prosthesis technique on his less damaged right eye. After six months, however, Abid’s eyes should have settled enough for him to undergo a cornea transplant, a simpler procedure that can be done in Pakistan, and could improve his sight more. Abid’s reacquaintance with the world, however, has been tempered by anxiety. “I was afraid to see myself,” he said. “I never saw any burnt people in my life. And when I saw myself I was right. I was scared.”

Dr Lawrence Pe, who has been helping with Abid’s operations in Greece, said: “The day after the operation I came out of the consulting room and saw that Abid’s father was not with him and that Abid was in the toilet. We had just taken the bandages off and I realised then that Abid would look in the mirror and see himself for the first time since the attack. He came out and was silent. Then he spoke to his father for a couple of minutes. Then they were both silent.”

Two weeks later, Abid, who has shown extraordinary courage through-out his ordeal, is concentrating more on his restored sight than his looks. The advanced surgical techniques used are carried out by only a handful of doctors in the world. It is hoped that he will now be able to look after himself. “Perfect vision is 20/20 vision. Our aim is to get Abid up to 1/20th vision,” said John Kanellopoulos, the surgeon leading the medical team in Greece. “It may not sound much, but that will allow him to see his way around a room, dress and perhaps even read.”

For now, Abid remains in recovery. “I believed they would give me a new life,” he said, with a hint of a smile. “But in fact now I can get on with the old one.”

Hundreds of Sunday Telegraph readers raised more than £12,000 to help Abid Tanoli, and Mr Geller paid for flights and a hotel in Athens. The substantial balance that remains will be used to assist Abid and pay for future treatment and travel costs.

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