Patient Stories

What is Ocular Surface Disease?

Ocular surface disease is caused by damage to, or dysfunction and/or deficiency of any of the anatomical parts of the cornea and conjunctiva. Patients with severe ocular surface disease caused by the diseases listed below, have no alternative medical or surgical therapies that can restore their vision and can benefit from a stem cell transplant and/or ocular surface reconstruction.

  • Chemical and Thermal Burn Injuries
  • Congenital disorders that affect the ocular surface (Ex. Aniridia and Keratitis-Ichthyosis-Deafness (KID) Syndrome)
  • Steven-Johnson’s Syndrome
  • Contact Lens Related
  • Iatrogenic: damage from prior eye medication or surgery
  • Graft versus Host Disease
  • Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency: lack of healthy limbal stem cells leading to corneal scarring and damage

Patients that have these diseases can be legally blind and often have chronic ocular pain. These eyes develop corneal scarring because with dysfunctional or deficient stem cells at the limbus; the surface cornea cells (epithelium) are unable to propagate in an orderly fashion.

Testimonials contain medical images that could be considered graphic by some viewers.


  • Farm accident, alkali injury age 3
  • Blind in Right eye since childhood
  • Had good vision on his left eye for many years and became an Executive in Manhattan
  • Slow progressive loss of vision in left eye over 25 years
  • Sent to CEI 2011 – Vision 20/300


  • Stem Cell surgery 2012
  • Corneal transplant 2012
  • Vision improved 20/30

One day late in 2012, Kirk Kozak closed his eyes for an eye operation. When he awoke a short time later, his life changed forever. “It was like when I closed my eyes I was in a world of impressionism,” he recalls. “And when I opened them ,everything was crystal clear. It was awesome.”

Mr. Kozak is just one of hundreds of patients who have traveled to Edgewood KY from all over the world for a pair of eye surgeries performed by Cincinnati Eye Institute Ophthalmologist, Dr. Edward Holland. The physician is one of the first and still very few specialists performing the complex transplants that can bring vision back to those who previously had no hope.

Kirk Kozak was among that group. He was just a toddler when a horrible accident claimed one of his eyes and left the other severely damaged. Due to the severe nature of his particular injury, the only repairs that physicians could make to his damaged eye were temporary ones that offered only brief periods of moderate vision. But the near-blindness always returned because the accident had destroyed the stem cells necessary for good, long-lasting sight. He figured that would be his lot in life. After all, as a Manhattan-based executive, Mr. Kozak was surrounded by some of the world’s leading ophthalmologists. Then, one of them suggested that Mr. Kozak see a physician in Kentucky who was having tremendous success with a relatively new treatment for patients with just his kind of problem.

After two outpatient procedures Kirk Kozak said life began anew for him at the age of 42. “After that second operation …when they did the cornea transplant, it was immediate – just like that I could see,” he recalls. ”And what really brought it home for me was when I got back to the hotel room … and I read some passages of the Bible. I hadn’t read anything printed in over 10 years. “It was a revelation …I just can’t describe how dramatic the change is that comes to your mental state to be freed from that prison of sensory deprivation.”

– Kirk Kozak, patient


  • 60 y/o
  • Blindness secondary to CLs
  • Vision = 20/100 OD and 20/400 OS
  • Had to give up job as case manager for the homeless in Philadelphia
  • Her insurance would not cover the Tissue typing testing to determine the best stem cell donor
  • A benefactor to the CEI Stem Cell Transplant program donated the money for her donor testing


  • Ocular Surface Stem Cell Transplant for each eye:
    Brother donor for left eye
    Daughter donor for right eye
  • Va = 20/25 OS
  • Back to work full time

Doctor Holland and Yevette


KID Syndrome

  • Keratitis
  • Icthyosis
  • Deafness
  • Vision Counting Fingers Both Eyes

He was partially deaf and was now told he was going to be blind and there was no treatment.

KID Syndrome

  • Ocular Surface Stem Cell Transplants from deceased donors for each eye
  • Subsequent corneal transplants both eyes
  • Cataract surgery both eyes
  • Vision = 20/40 and 20/50
Eric and Closeups of His Symptoms

He was so appreciative he named his cows after Dr. Holland


  • Medical Student
  • Severe Alkali injury to face and both eyes
  • Blindness and and lids scarring to eyes
  • Vision = Count Fingers OU
  • Was told by a University Cornea Specialist to learn braille, get an exercise bike, to quit medical school and find a new occupation.
  • He refused to accept that plan for his life and he entered and graduated from medical school blind.
  • Family members read his textbooks to him to get through Med School.
  • Graduated from Med School
  • Residency in Internal Medicine
  • Fellowship in Nephrology
  • Married, 3 children
  • Directs a Missionary Clinic in the Dominican Republic
  • Named his first son Holland


  • Ocular Surface Stem Cell Transplants from deceased donors for each eye
  • Corneal transplants each eye
  • Glaucoma and retinal surgery each eye
  • Cataract surgery each eye
  • Corneal transplant rejection and subsequent repeat corneal transplants each eye
  • Repeated Corneal transplant rejection each eye
  • Artificial corneas both eyes
  • Va = 20/200 and 20/30
Closeup of Aaron's Injuries and He and His Family


  • Severe Stevens-Johnson Syndrome
  • Age 7
  • Spent months in a burn unit
  • Lost all vision and her lid fused to her cornea
  • CF Vision
  • Referred to CEI at age 23
  • Ocular Surface Stem Cell Transplants from deceased donors for each eye.
  • Ocular Surface Stem Cell Transplants living donors for each eye x 1 OD and x 2 OS.
  • Corneal Transplants: x 2 Right Eye and x 4 Left Eye
  • Vision 20/50 – 100
  • Husband – US Army Special Ops
  • Adopted a baby from India (CNS and vision problems)
  • Recreation activitySkiing
  • Sky Diving
  • Biking
  • Wanted a tattoo
Closeups of Amanda's Injuries
Amanda as an Adult and Amanda's Foot With a Holland Tattoo


  • Age 9 developed Stevens-Johnson syndrome
  • Spent 2 months in the Burn Unit


  • LR-CLAL and KLAL (Cincinnati Procedure)
    • Stem Cells from her mother followed by a corneal transplant
  • Vision has improved to 20/100
  • Now reading, active and back attending school
Phoenix Before and After Her Surgeries
Phoenix After Her Surgeries


  • Decorated war veteran
  • Injured in a explosion in Iraq
  • Awarded a Purple Heart for his injuries
  • Father of 8 children
  • Explosion cause severe bilateral eye injuries and blindness
  • Attempts to improve vision included 3 previous corneal transplants at Medical Centers in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia
    • All surgeries have failed and resulted in loss of his right eye
    • Remained blind in his left eye for several years


  • Ocular Surface Stem Cell Transplant December 2016
  • Subsequent corneal transplant in March 2017
  • Vision now is 20/40
  • David is now driving
Collage of Pictures of David

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