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Rugby star who is glad that he finally tackled his poor eyesight

Published 08/03/2016

Great view: Bryn Cunningham can clearly see all the players on the pitch at Kingspan Stadium from his seat in the stand
Great view: Bryn Cunningham can clearly see all the players on the pitch at Kingspan Stadium from his seat in the stand
Clear view: Bryn Cunningham has no problems at work now

Ex-Ulster and Irish rugby star Bryn Cunningham's vision is now fighter pilot standard thanks to technology used by Belfast's Cathedral Eye Clinic. He tells Stephanie Bell how his job spotting future local stars of the game has just got much easier.

Life has suddenly taken on a much sharper edge for former Ulster and Irish rugby star Bryn Cunningham. The retired full-back has confessed that during his career when he famously scored 21 tries for Ulster he was in fact struggling on the pitch with bad eyesight.

It is only now that he has undergone a revolutionary procedure to correct his vision that Bryn says he realises just how much he might have been able to up his game had he been able to see more clearly as a player.

He has no regrets, though, and now as Ulster Rugby's operations director he says life at work and home has suddenly become much easier thanks to having had laser eye surgery carried out at Cathedral Eye Clinic a few months ago.

Bryn explains: "I had stigmatism in my left eye and was short sighted and I really should have been wearing glasses but I rarely did. I tried contact lenses a few years ago but I struggled with them.

"For years I just got by and as a player I didn't know any different. I think now if I had the treatment back then it could have helped me a lot when picking up the sharpness of the ball in the air.

"I enjoyed catching the high balls and I had my way of coping because of my eyesight which I managed by adjusting slightly the way I caught the ball to compensate.

"I think 'yes' if I had perfect eyesight it would have benefited me - it would have been a lot easier."

Bryn admits he had previously been nervous about the treatment. "I didn't get surgery because of that fear you have of having something done to your eyes which I think is only natural. But there have been so many advancements in treatment and the results are good so I realised it was worth looking into."

Bryn (37), who won the European Cup with Ulster in 1999, lives in Helen's Bay with his wife Veronica (37) and their two children Blake (6) and Tillie (4).

He retired from rugby in 2010 and now as operations director for Ulster, he is responsible for signing new players and spotting talent.

Bryn says it was because he was struggling to see in his new role which compelled him to finally undergo laser eye surgery.

"With my new job watching the game now from the box I couldn't pick out the numbers on the jerseys and I had to constantly look at the monitors rather than watch the game," he says.

"I was also starting to squint more and more. At home I would have had to squint to see the television and wasn't able to pick up the sharpness and, if information came up, I couldn't read it."

Bryn underwent the treatment six months ago and now has perfect vision. After years of struggling with his eyesight, he is amazed at how much the procedure has improved the quality of his life.

He was warned that there would be a recovery period and that after surgery he would be in pain, but he found the whole process very easy and a lot less painful than he feared.

"The build up and the anticipation were worse than the actual procedure which was very straight forward," he says. "The guys at Cathedral Eye Clinic are amazing and prepare you so well for it that there are absolutely no surprises.

"They did warn me there would be a fair bit of discomfort for a few days but my recovery was fine and I didn't struggle overly with it.

"The difference is fantastic. I don't squint anymore and I am able to pick things out that I didn't notice before.

"One good example is the view from our upstairs window at home which a few months ago I was looking at and picked out a landmark I hadn't seen before. I said to my wife I couldn't believe how clear it was and she told me it had always been that clear. That took me by surprise."

While there are other procedures which heal almost immediately, Bryn's recovery was more gradual taking around four to six months, so it is only now that he is truly enjoying the full benefits.

He says life at home and work has been transformed and he wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others.

And it has made his job easier adding: "I can pick players out on the pitch clearly now and the clarity of the colours and just the general sharpness is fantastic.

"There are a lot of people with worse eyesight than I had and all I can say is that by getting the treatment the added quality of life you have is fantastic. I would urge anyone to look into getting it done."

Belfast-based Cathedral Eye Clinic is known as an all-Ireland leader in providing the most advanced eye treatments possible, constantly investing in the very latest technology.

Professor Jonathan Moore, a well respected consultant ophthalmic surgeon, carried out Bryn's treatment.

He explains the technology has given Bryn perfect fighter pilot vision.

"Bryn's eye shape was slightly more complex, so it allowed us to make use of our world class technology to treat the finest details of his eyes.

"The eye tracker camera on our laser monitors the position of the eyes 1,050 times per second with a latency time of 1.6 milliseconds. Altogether, the total reaction time of the laser system is only three milliseconds.

"This technology allowed us to apply the profile change to Byn's eyes with extreme precision.

"Such is the precision of our laser technology; a human hair can be held in the beam and ablated by the laser approximately 60 times in one spot before the hair would break.

"We believe Bryn has had the safest most accurate laser treatment in the world that has had the least impact on his tear film quality."

And the results? Professor Moore adds: "Bryn now has fighter pilot vision - better than 20/20. This means that on match days when high up in the stadium, it is easy to pick out what player has just scored a try in the far corner or glance down at his monitor to pick up on some vital information."

  • Cathedral Eye Clinic is based at 89-91 Academy Street, Belfast, tel: 028 9032 2020 or visit www.cathedraleye.com for information on its range of treatments

Belfast Telegraph

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