Hoxworth Blood Center assists in saving the sight of international soccer star

International soccer star Omar Elabdellaoui is back on the field after nearly losing his sight from a backyard firework explosion thanks to the help of Hoxworth Blood Center’s Transplantation Immunology Division and other local medical teams.

“…my face started to burn, and that’s when I started to understand that it was something very bad,” Elabdellaoui recalled.

The problem, according to Dr. Jeffery Nerad of the Cincinnati Eye Institute, was that the chemical injury hadn’t just injured the part of Elabdellaoui’s eyes responsible for sight. It had also damaged the area around it, including his eyelids.

“It actually fused the eyelids to the eyeball,” Dr. Nerad said.

Eight surgeries later, and with the help of Hoxworth’s Transplantation Immunology Division, along with Dr. Edward Holland and Dr. Jeffery Neard of the Cincinnati Eye Institute, Elabdellaoui made it back to the soccer field with near-perfect vision.

“We took tissue from his lip and the side of his cheek, and we relined the eyeball up underneath the eye so that now, the eyelid would slide back and forth,” Dr. Nerad said.

Only then could his team begin to rebuild the surface of Elabdellaoui’s eye with stem cells that eventually would lay a foundation to restore his vision.

“What we do is tissue type a potential donor, a sibling, and fortunately for Omar, his sister was an identical match,” said Dr. Holland.

Hoxworth’s Transplantation Immunology Division (TID) played a significant role in Eladbellaoui’s vision restoration. The TID lab routinely supports solid organ transplants, stem cell transplants, and more according to Caroline Alquist, MD, PhD, chief transplant-services oficer for Hoxworth.

For transplants like Omar Elabdellaoui’s, Hoxworth often performs HLA typing, HLA antibody studies and a consultative assessment known as virtual crossmatch on patients and their donors. This work, according to Alquist, “helps ensure that the body won’t reject the graft.”

“Before surgery even occurs,” she explains. “We make sure the patient and donor (his sister) are an acceptable HLA pairing. The HLA system allows the body to decide what is acceptable as foreign tissue and what is not. The CEI team knew going into surgery that this was going to be a good pairing”. 

Elabdellaoui is now back playing soccer with Galatasaray SC in Turkey with a near-perfect record. His vision is also near-perfect in both eyes.

Hoxworth’s TID team supports more than 1,500 transplants a year. Additionally, they perform HLA typing and antibody studies for disease association, pharmacogenomic and research applications for patients across our region. Hoxworth Blood Center is the sole supplier of blood products to over 30 hospitals, but so much more than just a blood supplier.