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Making Eyes: An Accident Shrouds One Window Then Opens Another

ocular prosthetics with customres

Check out this news story just released about our office. It was authored by Gabriel Spitzer of KPLU 88.5 NPR radio of Seattle, Washington. Gabriel did a great job of capturing the process and the story of our introduction to the field of ocular prosthetics.

Story will be rebroadcast on May 14, 2015 3 times, during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:30am and 8:30am, and once more during NPR’s All Things Considered at 5:33pm.

The web story will appear on the web site Quirksee (along with the audio), and will be cross-posted on KPLU.org.

 

Here’s an excerpt from the audio transcript:

Todd Cranmore leans in close to his patient Tim, close enough for Tim to feel his breath. Cranmore sizes up the geometry of Tim’s left eye.

“So I’m getting set up to put your pupil in,” Cranmore tells him. “What I want to do is set your pupil first, because it’s going to be offset, then all the radial patterns I want to paint out.”

With the pupil is place on a dime-size curved disc of acrylic, Cranmore sets to work painting. He mixes dry pigments with solvent on a mat, and deftly streaks the plastic iris with grays and yellows.

The Department of Motor Vehicles would say Tim’s eyes are blue, but Todd Cranmore knows better.

“I don’t see blue,” he says. “Most blue eyes are predominantly gray.”

Todd Cranmore is deconstructing the layers, colors and anatomy of Tim’s eye in order to make a perfect duplication. He’s an ocularist, or maker of artificial eyes, and his artwork will be set into a larger concave piece of acrylic and fitted into Tim’s right socket as a prosthesis.

In walks the lab’s senior ocularist Christie Erickson to appraise Todd’s work.

“Look at that detail,” she says approvingly. “Is that a detail man or what?”

Erickson Labs Northwest in Kirkland is one of just four licensed ocularist practices in Washington, They make eyes for people who have lost or damaged their own eyes because of accidents, cancer or birth defects. Each eye is hand-painted using the live eye as a model, when possible, as Christie or Todd tries to capture the exquisite character of the human eye.

“There’s nothing else on our bodies that are that captivating. Kind of like a flower, it’s the beacon, it’s the life, it’s the window to the soul,” he says. “What a challenge to try and duplicate an iris, and make something that is plastic and pigment look alive.”

Making it come alive flows in part from watching the person’s whole face, understanding how the eye reads to other people as an expression of the patient’s personality. In this patient’s case, Todd has the advantage of knowing the eye well. Tim is Todd Cranmore’s older brother. Christie Erickson is their mother.

How Tim wound up as his brother’s patient in an eye shop owed by his mother involves freakish chance, a family’s radical change in direction and exquisite attention to detail.