Dwayne and Ashleigh Collins knew something was wrong when scans of their unborn baby girl, Liberty Collins, showed her covering her eye.”
“It’s was like she knew,” Dwayne said.
The parents learned that their daughter has a rare eye condition called microphthalmia. This condition causes partial blindness due to one eye being smaller than the other. In Liberty’s case, her right eye was 40 percent smaller than her left.
If the void in her eye socket was not filled, her face would collapse.
“You need to fill that void with a prosthetic,” Ashleigh said.
A few months after her birth, the couple spent two years taking their daughter to different clinics in Australia and New Zealand with the hopes of getting a prosthetic eye. During a fitting, the doctor had trouble extracting the prosthetic and had to rip it out.
“It was horrific,” said Ashleigh.
Liberty was traumatized.
The second they got home, Dwayne went onto YouTube, looking up how to make a prosthetic eye for his daughter.
“Maybe we should let a professional do it,” Ashleigh said to her husband.
“Well, look what a professional just did to our daughter. I can do it better and I can do it without hurting her,” he pointed out.
Dwayne came across a John Pacey-Lowrie video, often stopping it to study the process and look at what he was using. Pacey-Lowrie is a renowned British ocularist, who shares videos of how he creates detailed prosthetic eyes. Collins eventually put the process together and decided he could try it himself using materials he had at home.
He then decided to turn the shed in his backyard into a makeshift clinic, where he started practicing making the prosthetic eyes.
To create the eyes, Collins takes an impression of the eye socket and uses wax to shape the implant. The wax is similar to one used for prosthetic teeth.
The iris is then painted and silk cotton thread is used to create the veins. Every prosthetic is hand painted in order to look as realistic as possible.
Making one takes three days.
“It was really frustrating. I would get three-quarters of the way through making a perfect eye and then the last bit of the process I would stuff up,” said Dwayne.
After six months of training, he made one that he felt good about giving his daughter.
He made about 20 eyes for her over the past year, and in doing so, realized how much of a passion he has for it.
With encouragement from his wife, he decided to make a career out of it.
He eventually met with Pacey-Lowrie to further his knowledge of how to make them, becoming his apprentice.
“As a parent, you do anything for your child. Guess I just went one step further,” he said.