Five years ago a pioneering eye operation which used a patient's tooth to help restore their sight took place at the Sussex Eye Hospital.

Since then, the Brighton medical team responsible has carried out the same technique on 15 more patients in the UK.

A reunion of patients and the surgical team took place yesterday to mark the anniversary.

Siobhan Ryan spoke to the people whose lives were changed forever and the surgeons whose dedicated efforts made their patients' dreams come true.

The world went dark for Dorothy Walton when she lost her sight at the age of 61 after contracting Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

From being an independent woman who loved to watch television and read, she became trapped in a dark world and had to learn to rely on the help of others.

Mrs Walton had the support of her husband, Eric and her daughter, Julie Treadway, to help her cope but she was still faced with the fact she would spend the rest of her days blind.

She said: "It was a very difficult time for everyone.

I was learning to cope with a whole new situation and everyone else was rallying round trying to help me.

"The sight gradually faded away rather than disappearing immediately so I had a chance to come to terms with it but to lose the ability to see after 60 years was difficult to deal with.

"Everything that was once so familiar had completely changed. Now a chair in the wrong place could cause me major problems."

Mr Walton was distraught at his wife's struggle and did everything he could to help.

But despite several visits to Moorfields eye hospital in London it looked like nothing could be done.

However, in 1997, the family learned about a pioneering operation on Bhimji Varsani by Italian professor, Giancarlo Falcinelli and a team of specialists at the Sussex Eye Hospital the year before.

It was then they realised there was hope after ten years of darkness.

Mr Walton contacted ophthalmic surgeon Christopher Liu, who had been taught the method by Prof Falcinelli and was now practising it himself.

Mr Liu was willing but there was one major setback.

The operation relied on using a tooth, skin tissue and a piece of jawbone from the patient to ensure success and Mrs Walton had lost the last few teeth she had.

Her daughter Julie agreed to donate one of her teeth and the operation went ahead in 1999.

Mrs Treadway said: "I didn't have to think twice about it. We were desperate to try anything and the doctors were willing.

"I am so pleased I did it because I have helped my mother to see again."

Mrs Walton, now 73, was able to see almost immediately and sparked a laugh from doctors and her daughter when the first thing she did was spot that her daughter had developed grey hair.

Mrs Treadway, 49, said: "After all that effort that was the first thing she spotted.

"Seriously, it was wonderful to see her looking around again and seeing so much.

"Sometimes she sees too much as now she is always making me tidy up."

Mrs Walton said: "I can do things now like read magazines, do the ironing and watch television especially Coronation Street.

"It took some time to learn how to recognise things again and it has been a slow process but it has been wonderful.

"I have seen my grandchildren for the first time and the bungalow and it is like having a whole new life."

Tragically, Mr Walton died while Mrs Walton, from Brighton, was waiting for the second stage of her operation and so she never got to see him again.

She said: "It was desperately sad that we never got the chance to see each other again, especially after all the effort he had made."

Mrs Treadway said it was a very emotional time when they realised the operation had been a success. She said:

"There were tears and laughter on both sides, especially when my mother made the comment about my hair, but it was wonderful as well.

"We are eternally grateful to the surgeons here for what they have done"

Bhimj Varsani, now 66, from London, became one of the most famous faces in the medical world when he was the first person in the UK to undergo the operation.

Now, five years later, he is still going strong and has nothing but praise for the medical team.

He said: "Every day I wake up and feel so much gratitude.

"I lost my sight for about two years because my corneas became dry because of an infection.

"It was a terrible time because I could no longer see my grandchildren growing up.

"I was very depressed and cried lot. The operation was my last chance and was willing to try.

"Now I feel I have my life back. I have to put cream in my eye every day and clean out every morning but that is a small price to pay for my sight."

Simon Taylor, 30, had the operation in 1999. He became blind as a result of an infection at 18-months-old and grew up in a world of darkness.

He says psychologically, there is a lot for him to contend with and he still relies on the support of a guide dog when he goes out.

Mr Taylor, from Sheffield, said: "At home I am able to sit down and read a paper or book or see the television but when I go out things can be a little more difficult.

"I don't have a great sense of perspective. have spent all my life knowing that just because I can't see something doesn't mean it isn't there.

"Now, although I can see that something is not there, my brain won't accept it.

"If I'm on my own it can take a long time to get across the road but I'm working on it."

"I taught myself how to read again by using a combination of Braille and the alphabet."

At the moment, the complex two-stage operation has a 75 per cent success rate and Mr Liu says he and his team are hopeful that the figure will rise.

He said "We are working on making Brighton a centre of excellence for this technique.

It is the only place in the country where the operation takes place and is fast developing a major reputation.

"We are now teaching the technique to surgeons in other countries so they can use it for themselves.

"The surgery may leave the patient with an unusual looking eye but they can see with it and that is the most important thing."