Diabetes Forecast

Making a Prosthetic Eye

The science and art of ocularist June Nichols

By Lindsey Wahowiak , ,

June Nichols (left) has created prosthetic eyes for thousands of people with and without diabetes, including actor Stephen Wallem, during her 40-year career. The board-certified ocularist from Des Plaines, Ill., who also has a fine-arts degree, helps those who have lost sight regain a sense of confidence in their appearance. Surgeries to combat diabetic retinopathy can leave an eye shriveled, though it's still attached to the muscles behind it. Nichols creates a prosthetic eye that fits directly over the sightless eye like a shell and moves with it.

Wallem calls Nichols "a miracle worker. She sits directly across from you at a table, looking at your healthy eye and painting the whole thing. It's really a work of art. It's the most remarkable thing I've ever seen, and it's changed my whole life," Wallem adds. "Friends who've known me for years, long before this came up, will look at me and forget which eye is prosthetic and which is real."

Photographs by Todd Winters

Making a Prosthetic Eye,
Step by Step

The process typically takes three office
visits over about a week to complete.

Gail Evans, before the procedure. She lost
vision in her right eye to diabetic retinopathy.

1. Nichols inserts a tiny tray to hold injected impression material. 2. Mixing the material, alginate. It's made from brown-seaweed cell walls.

3. Injecting alginate into the tray placed over the sunken eyeball. 4. Making a plaster mold of the eyeball impression.

5. Mixing the paints. 6. Matching eye colors.

7. Painting the eye. Silk threads are used for veins. 8. Buffing the eye to give it a moist, shiny look.

9. Inserting the prosthetic. It's often taken out at night and stored in water. 10. Evans with the new eye. It should last three to five years.


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