Irenie Ekkeshis, 35, from London, received the award from the Shelia McKechnie Foundation for her No Water campaign. She was presented the Health and Social Campaigner Award at an official ceremony at the House of Lords on Monday 23 February.Ms Ekkshis was initially diagnosed with Acanthamoeba keratitis in 2011. The severity of her infection, caused by a common microorganism found in soil and water sources, resulted in extensive treatment at Moorfields Eye Hospital, requiring two corneal transplants, and which ultimately left her blind in one eye.
Exposure of contact lenses to tap water is one of a number of factors which can increase a wearer’s risk of Acanthamoeba infection, as well as wearing the lenses while showering or swimming. However, many patients may not be fully of the risks.
Working with researchers and patients at Moorfields, Ms Ekkeshis, a former contact lens wearer, designed No Water stickers for use on contact lens packaging.
Last year, Clearlab announced that it would be the first contact lens manufacturer to carry the stickers on its packaging in the UK. However, to date it remains the only manufacturer to have signed up to the stickers on its packaging.
“I’m delighted to have my efforts to raise awareness of contact lenses and the condition recognised. It’s brilliant to have something positive to come out of my own awful experience,” said Ms Ekkehis.
She added: “I have lost the sight in my eye and many years of my life to this disease. My No water graphic warning, amongst other measures, has built a broad coalition of support and it’s already being used by a manufacturer in the UK. I look forward to others also adopting it in future.”The campaigner is also a supporter of Fight for Sight, and recently spoke as part of the research charity’s expert speaker network, at 100% Optical in London, about her experiences and about the No Water campaign.
Ms Ekkshis added: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the Fight for Sight funded researchers to help gain even more awareness of the condition amongst the optical community. Our talks at seminars have been very successful so far and will hopefully reinforce the message with eye care practitioners too.”