She doesn’t ask how they lost the eye. “I don’t like it to be traumatic,” Nancy Lambert said. She can empathize; she’s pushed through the same trauma. But because of it, she found a career and a partner.
Lambert is an ocularist at the Dean A. McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City. She creates ocular prostheses, or false eyes.
“I’m the end of the road at Dean McGee,” she said. “When all else fails, they see me. I get to put them back together.”
If an eye can’t be saved, a surgeon at the institute will remove it and insert an implant.
They attach the ocular muscles to the implant, allowing it to move like a natural eye. Lambert designs a cap to cover the implant so that it looks like a real eye.
It’s a cosmetic fix, but an important one, she said.
“It’s a confidence thing for people,” she said. “It really makes a difference in how the world perceives you.”
Perfectionist at work
There is no blue paint in a blue eye. That’s for the sclera.
“I don’t literally take blue and make a blue eye,” Nancy Lambert said. “I start with gray. Then I put white on top. That gives the pattern. Then I tint it ... with yellows and grays.”
Eight weeks after the implant is placed, patients see Lambert. She constructs the eye in one day. It takes about seven hours.
There are two rounds of artwork. During the first, she paints the iris on a piece of foil. She starts at the pupil and works out.
“I’m paying attention to the anatomy when I’m putting this together,” she said. “I make sure I build those colors the way they’d be naturally, from front to back.”
She adds a cornea, a clear lens that gives the iris depth.
Lambert takes a cast of the eye socket, fills the cast with a doughy substance and adds the iris and cornea to the front.
She takes this to the lab, where it is cured and hardened.
Many ocularists have lab technicians, but Lambert doesn’t. She prefers doing the work herself.
“When you’re a perfectionist, it’s hard to let go,” she said.
After, she starts the second round of artwork: tinting the white and creating veins.
She tints the white of the eye, or the sclera, with a few colors, including blue. Leaving it totally white looks unnatural, she said.