Anyone who wears contacts should really listen to one of Irenie Ekkeshis's speeches. After losing sight in one of her eyes due to poor contact hygiene, Ekkeshis now teaches fellow contact lens wearers how to properly care of their contacts and how to avoid contacting serious eye infections.
Ekkeshis, who lives in the northern London borough of Enfield, developed a rare eye disease the blinded her right eye not long ago. At the age of 30 she was officially diagnosed with Acanthamoeba Keratitis, which is caused by water-dwelling microbes that attack a person's cornea. Doctors believe these microbes must have been breeding in the water Ekkeshis exposed her contacts to.
When Ekkeshis developed light sensitivity in her right eye six years ago, she visited London's Moorfields Eye Hospital to get it checked out. The doctors who examined her said it was nothing to get worried about and that her normal vision would soon return.
Just one week later, Ekkeshis lost sight in her right eye. Although hazy vision sometimes returned to Ekkeshis's right eye, it is now completely blind.
Doctors put Ekkeshis on various medications and performed two corneal transplant operations to try and save her vision. Ekkeshis's career as a strategy consultant had to be put on hold as doctors attempted to help her combat this disease. Unfortunately, none of the treatment strategies worked to save Ekkeshis's right eye.
Today, Ekkeshis is passionate about raising awareness of Acanthamoeba Keratitis around the world. Although many people who wear contacts probably don't know of Acanthamoeba Keratitis, almost everyone who gets this rare disease wears contacts. More specifically, people who tend to contract Acanthamoeba Keratitis frequently expose their contacts to water.
In order to combat this disease, all contact lens wearers must be mindful about where they put their contacts on a daily basis. Not only should people avoid washing their contacts with water, they shouldn't wear them while swimming, bathing, or showering. Contact lens wearers must also maintain proper eye hygiene by practicing good habits like never touching their contacts with dirty hands.
Ekkeshis is now officially a part of the General Optical Council's Love Your Lenses campaign. The key message she tries to get across to people who attend her talks is that "contact lenses and water shouldn't ever mix."
In recent years, Ekkeshis has lobbied successfully to get eyewear manufacturers to print warning labels on all contact lenses regarding exposure to water. Ekkeshis's push for this packaging label has been supported by organizations such as the American Academy of Optometry and the British Contact Lens Association.
Ekkeshis recently won both the Sheila McKechnie Foundation and Social Care 2015 "Campaign of the Year" Award and the Royal National Institute of Blind People's Vision Pioneer Awards' 2016 "Campaign of the Year" award. For more information on Ekkeshis's campaign, just check out the official Love Your Lenses web page.