Norfolk artist’s sight restored
His eye for detail gave wildlife artist Steve Cale an incredible life of travelling the world and making a living from doing what he loves.
But a freak, one-in-a-million accident, shattered Mr Cale's right eyeball and threatened to have the same effect on his dreams.
One evening, after returning from a day's work at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, in Welney, sketching scenes from the famed Festival of Swans, Mr Cale was unloading his car at his former home in Great Ryburgh, when the plastic toggle of his coat flicked into his eye, causing extensive injuries.
Mr Cale, 50, who now lives in Colkirk, near Fakenham, and has been a professional artist for 10 years, said: 'I blacked out with the pain and collapsed on the floor. When I came around I could only see black from my right eye. I was in total shock.'
Mr Cale temporarily lost complete vision in his right eye.
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He does illustrations for nature books and his ability to accurately capture fine details is imperative for his work.
So he feared his life as a professional artist was over and he would have to go back to his former career, in insurance.
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But the professional skill of a King's Lynn-based eye surgeon has ensured that Mr Cale has restored 80pc vision in that eye and continues doing what he loves.
Mr Cale's daughter, Laura, rushed him to Queen Elizabeth A&E Department, in King's Lynn, and he was referred to see consultant ophthalmic surgeon Manzar Saeed.
Mr Cale said: 'Mr Saeed told me that I had lost half of my iris, had damaged the structure which holds the lens in place and had what he described as a traumatic cataract.
'It was like a trampoline with springs around the edges, which had 30pc to 40pc of the springs cut on one side and so it couldn't function properly.
'Mr Saeed told me that he would be able to restore the vision in my right eye to some level, but he could not tell me what level this would be.
'He told me that it was an incredibly rare injury. There were even students in the operating room studying what was being done to me.'
In a delicate eye reconstruction operation, Mr Saeed replaced the damaged iris and took out the natural lens, replacing it with an advanced lens.
Mr Saeed said: 'This reconstruction demonstrates the wonderful advances that we have made with eye surgery.
'It was crucial to use the very best lens technology to restore Steve's vision.
'Being able to restore the eye's natural lens has led to many people being glasses-free thanks to the most advanced modern options for implants which are now available.'
Mr Cale said: 'The operation was a very strange experience. I was anaesthetised and my left eye was covered so I couldn't see or feel what was happening, but just being awake and aware that they were working on my eye was quite frightening.'
Mr Cale's career has seen him work in India, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Australia, Sweden, Gambia, Russia, Turkey and Cyprus, amongst other places.
He has also done a great deal of work in Norfolk, working for organisations like the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and other wildlife charities.
Mr Cale has started wearing glasses since the accident, but he said this was more down to natural ageing than the incident itself.
He said: 'Because my paintings are used for reference purposes, I need good vision. If, for example, I am drawing a bird of prey, I need to be able to accurately judge the distance it is away from me so I can estimate its size and its shape.
'Whatever happened, I was determined to draw and paint again, but without good vision in both eyes I would never have been able to work to the level that I would like to think I work at now.
'I would have probably had to go back into insurance, which I really didn't want to do. I found that work very stressful.
'Mr Saeed and his team have essentially given me my career back and I cannot thank them enough. Mr Saeed is the next best thing to God for me.'
Mr Cale, who is from Wolverhampton, moved to the Fakenham area 11 years ago and was drawn there by the bird watching.
He said: 'I was very down for about three days after the accident. I could not see at all out of my right eye at first and then after a few days I could only see a white blur. But my friends helped me through.
'I had already planned a bird watching trip to Costa Rica before I had my accident and Mr Saeed said there was no medical reason not to go, so I went, 10 days after the accident.
'My friends had a laugh and gave me a cardboard eye patch with a Biro drawing of an eyeball on it. It was good to have a sense of humour about the whole thing.'
He added: 'I love my job and I see myself as one of the luckiest people around.
'I earn my living doing my hobby and I get to see parts of the world that I would never otherwise see. Sometimes it pays well, sometimes it doesn't, but it is a brilliant way to earn a living.'
Mr Cale is now working on preparations for a solo exhibition of his work on wildlife and landscapes from across the world.
The exhibition will be at the Ecotech Centre, Swaffham and will be open to the public, free of charge, for a month, beginning on November 14.