Colin Haylock: Prosthetic Eye Mentor

|   Eye

Colin Haylock and Rehema Semindu are an unlikely team. When they met eleven years ago, Rehema was working as a nurse in CCBRT Disability Hospital’s Eye outpatient department. Colin, a retired Consultant Maxillofacial Prosthodontist, had traveled to CCBRT from his home in the UK train her in the highly specialised field of eye prosthetics.

“When we first met, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into!”, she remembers. Over the course of 5 years, Colin led Rehema through technical and academic training in eye prosthetics. Through online lectures and six 6 week hands-on intensive sessions, he coached her on fitting and manufacturing devices for patients who needed full artificial eyes, cosmetic shells, eyelids, and full facial prostheses.

Constructing eye and facial prostheses takes an incredible amount of medical and artistic skill. Colin elaborated, “You need to know the anatomy and conditions that patients are coming with and how you approach that patient in relation to what they can withstand, particularly if they have a sensitive remnant of an eye”. Each fitting lasts 3 to 4 hours and 3 devices are produced concurrently to save materials and cost. In 2016 Rehema produced over 700 devices. “It is truly a phenomenal amount of work”, Colin noted proudly. 

In addition, Colin and Rehema have extraordinary artistic talent. To create lifelike devices, they had to master molding, texture, skin coloration, and fit. They use superfine string to paint capillaries and vibrant irises. The realism they produce is truly striking. Rehema often laughs contentedly as visitors struggle to tell the difference between real and artificial eyes in her patients’ “after” photos.

With Colin’s support, Rehema submitted cases to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists for accreditation in 2012. She was accepted as an associate member and certified as a Maxillofacial Prosthodontist, “an incredible achievement”, Colin proudly noted. This is the highest possible classification for an international practitioner and she is the only member in Tanzania.

Colin visits CCBRT and other units in Kenya, Vietnam, and India once per year to consult on difficult cases and provide continuous training. Through his nonprofit, International Ocular and Facial Prosthetic Services, he provides materials, training, and his expertise free of charge.

Rehema is now paying it forward. In April 2016 she hosted Valentine Atari, an aspiring eye prosthetist from Lubumbashi, a city in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He trained with Rehema for three months, learning how to assess, mold, manufacture, and fit eyes. “Atari was so eager to learn, he was easy to teach”, she remarked. He now operates his own Prosthetic Eye Unit, serving hundreds of patients each year.