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Sight-saving procedure available to children in a first for Wales

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Children across Swansea Bay are the first in Wales to be offered sight-saving treatment which will prevent them from needing a transplant.

Youngsters with keratoconus, where the cornea bulges into a cone shape and makes it difficult to see, can now undergo a procedure to stabilise their eye.

Corneal cross-linking is the only treatment that can stop progressive keratoconus from getting worse.

Previously it was only available to adults but is now being offered to children and young people in the Swansea Bay and Hywel Dda health board areas.

The single-visit procedure involves using a machine that focuses UV rays onto the cornea, along with eye drop medication. These combine to make chemical bonds on the cornea to strengthen it and prevent any further misshaping.

The only option for children had been to have a corneal transplant or wait until they reached the age of 18, by which time many would have lost the vision in one eye.

Pictured left to right: Specialist nurse Hermenegildo Zamora, Mr Mario Saldanha, Charlie Wiltshire, and nurse practitioners Melvin Cua and Bethan Lopez-Thomas. (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Ophthalmology consultant Mr Mario Saldanha, based at Singleton Hospital, in Swansea, said: “We received the machine in 2017 but have only been able to do the treatment for adults.

“The real need was in paediatric age groups where the disease can be quite aggressive and by the time they reach the age of 18 they will almost definitely lose vision in one eye completely.

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“The only option before this treatment for these cases used to be a corneal transplant.

“For a young individual that is a major operation which has implications for completing their education, becoming independent, getting job prospects and further moving ahead in life.”

Earlier this year, Health Technology Wales, a Welsh Government funded organisation which works to improve health technology, approved the treatment and made it available to children as young as 11.

Charlie Wiltshire, aged 11, was one of the first patients to undergo the corneal cross-linking procedure at Morriston Hospital, in Swansea, after his eyesight suddenly deteriorated during the pandemic.

His mum, Sarah Wiltshire, said Charlie had been complaining his vision had become blurry and he struggled to use the laptop during home-schooling.

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“I thought he was pulling my leg because he could play his Xbox but couldn’t see his laptop for the home-schooling so there was a bit of back and forth for a while,” said Sarah, who lives in Neath.

“Due to lockdown we couldn’t get his eyes tested until one day he told me how bad it was so we managed to book an eye test.

“They told us that he had gone legally blind in his left eye since his last eye test. It had gone very quickly.

“It went from having no glasses to him needing such a strong prescription that it had to happen over three stages. He couldn’t have his glasses straight away because it had become very bad, very quickly.”

After being referred to the ophthalmology department at Singleton Hospital, Sarah was told that Charlie, whose dad has the same condition, would need to undergo orneal cross-linking.

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She added: “When we came for our first appointment with Mr Saldanha I realised how bad Charlie’s eyes were as he couldn’t even see the top line of letters on the board.

“We were a lot more informed on our first appointment and we were told there and then that he would need the surgery.

“We only had two appointments before the surgery itself. It was very quick.”

Mr Saldanha with Charlie Wiltshire (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

Since the treatment on both of his eyes, Charlie can now read several more lines on the eye chart and no longer suffers with headaches or blurred vision.

Sarah added: “There’s nothing scarier than being told your child has gone blind in one eye.

“It was a massive relief. It was nerve-racking when he had it done because when he woke up he couldn’t see, which you expect because he had both of his eyes done.

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“Even then we were reassured constantly by the doctors, nurses and surgeons.

“We are really grateful and it was amazing from start to finish. We felt prioritised straight away because clearly it was needed.”

Brooklyn Sadler is another young patient to have benefited from the corneal cross-linking treatment.

The 14-year-old, from Port Talbot, had started to keep her left eye closed after developing keratoconus but her vision has noticeably improved following the treatment.

Her mum, Julie Thomas, said: “She’s always had eye conditions and last year she was told she had the start of keratoconus, which I have got.

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“Her right eye was bad enough that she couldn’t have any treatment for it so it was very important to rush and treat her left eye to protect it from getting any worse.

“She had cross-linking treatment and it saved her sight so we are very happy.

“She was keeping her left eye closed but now she’s opening it and with the condition she always wanted to scratch her eyes but that’s gone now too.

“On the vision chart she can see and read a lot more. She’s smiling again whereas before she was very upset because her eyesight had deteriorated.”

Mr Saldanha explained that three hubs offering corneal cross-linking are planned for the future in north, south-east and south-west Wales so that the treatment can become more accessible.

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He added: “This treatment hadn’t been approved in Wales and there were many children and young adults who were losing their vision because this sight-saving treatment wasn’t available.

“Before this, the only form of treatment used to be in the community with contact lenses and, because not every child is happy handling a contact lens, quite a lot of them adapted to living with poor vision.

“This is a one-time treatment that aims to stabilise the cornea and improve their vision so each patient can get better glasses or contact lenses so that their vision ends up being a lot better.

“This treatment is completely nurse-led and delivered so it doesn’t actually cause an extra strain on hospital services.

“It’s a fantastic development that we can provide this service to the population of Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and neighbouring Hywel Dda University Health Board patients.”

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(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Coronavirus

First Omicron variant COVID case confirmed in Wales

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A case of the Omicron variant of concern has been confirmed in Wales. The case is in the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area and is linked to international travel.

In a statement, the Welsh Government said: “We are prepared to respond rapidly to emerging variants of concern and intensive investigations and robust public health action are being taken to slow any spread.

“The health impact of the Omicron variant is still being assessed. Currently there is no substantial evidence to suggest the Omicron variant will lead to a more severe form of illness but the data is being kept under constant review.

“As we better understand this variant we will be able to determine the next steps. In the meantime, sticking to the rules, following the steps which keep us safe and taking up the offer of a vaccine continue to be the best way to protect ourselves and the NHS.”

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Dyfed Powys Police

Eight assaults EVERY DAY on Welsh emergency workers in first six months of 2021

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Eight assaults every day were committed against Welsh emergency workers during the first six months of this year, new figures have revealed.

More than 1,360 assaults were committed in the six-month period from 01 January 2021 – 30 June 2021.

They included kicking, slapping, head-butting and verbal abuse, and ranged from common assault to serious premediated attacks involving grievous bodily harm.

At least 21 incidents involved a weapon.

With Christmas fast approaching – the time of year when assaults traditionally spike – emergency workers are asking the public to treat them with respect.

Jason Killens, Chief Executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been a fraught time for all of us, but that’s no excuse to assault an emergency worker, who are normal human beings just trying to do a job.

“The run-up to Christmas means more people are out enjoying the revelry, and with alcohol consumption comes an increase in assaults, both physical and verbal.

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“There were 60 verbal attacks alone on our ambulance control room staff in the first six months of the year.

“We know it’s distressing when you’re waiting for help, but abusing our call handlers is not the answer – if anything, it could potentially delay help.

“On the road meanwhile, crews might have no choice but to leave a scene if their safety is compromised, and that’s not helpful for anyone, especially the patient.

“The debt of gratitude we owe to our emergency workers has never been greater, so we’re asking the public to work with us, not against us this Christmas.”

Almost half (47%) of assaults in the six-month period took place in South East Wales; Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Bridgend are among the most prolific local authority areas.

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Offenders aged 26-35 account for the highest portion of offending (24%), while a third of incidents involved people under the influence of alcohol.

May 2021 saw the highest volume of assaults (281) as the hospitality industry re-opened in Wales after the second Covid-19 lockdown.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, there have been at least 36 incidents where an emergency worker has been deliberately coughed at.

Assaults on police account for two thirds (67%) of the total number, averaging 152 victims every month in the six-month period.

Claire Parmenter, Temporary Chief Constable at Dyfed Powys Police, said: “Assaults on police officers continue to increase and this is completely unacceptable. 

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“Assault is a traumatic offence that causes great distress to anyone, and it is no different when the victim is an emergency worker.

“In September, we saw a man handed a 26-week prison sentence suspended for two years after he violently attacked two of our police officers who had gone to his aid.

“Concerned for his safety, they gave him a lift home – and in return both were physically injured.

“The psychological impact on both officers is something they will take time to recover from.

“In the same month alone, three officers carrying out their duties suffered injuries in an unprovoked attack at the hands of the man they were trying to arrest.

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“Despite the offender’s efforts, the officers were able to arrest him although they were left with injuries.

“The offender appeared in court the day after his arrest, where he was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

“Assaults such as these stay with the victims for the rest of their careers, and none of my officers and staff should have to go to work serving the public and be afraid of being assaulted.

“With the upcoming season of goodwill, please respect and protect our emergency workers.”

Although fewer in number – 22 incidents over the six-month period – March 2021 saw an unexplained rise in assaults on fire service colleagues, especially in South Wales.

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Chief Fire Officer Huw Jakeway QFSM from South Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “Our emergency services work hard every day keeping the public safe and should not have to deal with abuse.

“Attacks on crews while protecting our communities and keeping people safe is completely unacceptable.

“Our blue light services come to work to serve and protect the public and the impact of such assaults can lead to life-changing consequences for those involved.

“This type of behaviour is, of course, carried out by a very small minority, and we once again thank our communities for their continued support in working with us this festive season to stay safe.”

Under the Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, the definition of an emergency worker includes police, fire and ambulance staff, as well as prison staff and NHS workers.

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Judith Paget, Chief Executive of NHS Wales, said: “Our emergency workers provide life-saving and life-changing care every day in often difficult circumstances.

“Our NHS staff are preparing for a challenging Christmas period so now, more than ever, they deserve to be treated with respect.

“Any form of attack on our emergency workers is completely unacceptable and we are doing everything we can to work with NHS Wales employers and our partner agencies to eradicate physical or verbal assaults on staff.”

Last week, UK Government announced that it was introducing a new law that will mean a mandatory life sentence for those who kill an emergency worker in the course of their duty.

The Ministry of Justice said it would aim to pass ‘Harper’s Law’ in England and Wales – in memory of Thames Valley Police PC Andrew Harper, who was killed in the line of duty in 2019 – as soon as possible.

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The With Us, Not Against Us campaign was launched in May 2021 by the Joint Emergency Service Group in Wales to try and reduce the number of assaults on emergency workers.

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Carmarthen

Mother gifts toys to children’s wards in memory of lifesaving son

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The family of a patient who passed away in Morriston Hospital has donated a collection of toys to the children’s wards to help keep his memory alive.

But the presents are nothing compared to the gift of life that has resulted from the deceased being an organ donor.

Marc Leach passed away on 5th May, of this year, in Morriston Hospital, following a period in critical care.

The 25-year-old, who worked as a chef in a Carmarthen restaurant, leaves behind a 5-year-old son, Lincoln.

On what would have been his 26th birthday, his family and friends met up at Marc’s place of work where the idea of keeping his memory alive for his son was hatched.

Marc’s mother, Michelle Francis, said: “On his birthday this year, on 18 November, we all got together and decided to do a toy drive for the children’s ward in Morriston, to give them new toys.

“Marc has an amazing little boy called Lincoln, who is the spitting image of his daddy. I wanted to keep my son’s memory alive so that his own son would never forget him.

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“Next year we are going to do a donor drive and raise money for mental health services.”

Marc Leach (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

When it became apparent that Marc would not survive his mother spoke to members of the organ donation team.

Michelle said: “Marc had told us he wanted to be a donor. Because his uncle had benefitted from receiving a kidney in the past, he wanted to give back.

“I’m also a registered donor, I was supposed to give one of my kidneys to my brother but a donor came up instead.”

Although the recipients of donated organs remain confidential Michelle has been told that her son’s decision has already helped save lives.

She said: “His kidneys have gone to two people, his liver has gone to another. I believe he has saved three or four people.”

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It is a bittersweet thought for Michelle.

“I’m chuffed to bits that he has saved lives but I wish he was still here as he would have only been 26 this year.”

Calling on everyone to at least have a conversation on the subject of donations, she said: “We don’t need our organs when we die but there are people out there who do need them. They are just going to waste.”

Michelle thanked those who looked after her son in his final days.

“The nurses and doctors in intensive care laughed with us and they cried with us. They were absolutely amazing.

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“They were part of the family in the end. They knew a lot about Marc from listening us talking about what he was like and what he got up to.”

Kathryn Gooding (pictured top with Marc’s mother, Michelle Francis), Swansea Bay UHB specialist nurse organ donation, said: “Organ donation really does save and improve the lives of others.

“Thanks to Marc’s donation and the bravery of his family to support the decision other lives were saved.”

Of the presentation of toys to the hospital she said: “This initiative is a lovely way of remembering Marc and his generous gift of life and hopefully to bring a smile to the children who will benefit from the toy drive.”

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