Creating Artificial Eyes and Facial Prosthetics: The Art Behind the Trade

When I was in school I did a series of portraits
of women going through cancer just showing their different strengths going through such
a grueling process. For me it was never a dream to own a studio
and just sculpt all the time. So finding a job where I could help people
and do something that makes their lives better while working with my hands and enjoying my
craft, I feel very lucky. My name is Kaylee Dougherty I work at Boston
Ocular Prosthetics. I service people who have had a loss or who
have been born without something and try to make them whole again, you know give them
back what they’ve lost. So we make artificial eyes for people who
have either blindness or are missing an eye. We also make facial prosthetics for someone
who’s missing an ear or nose you know we hand sculpt, paint, fabricate, all of these
individually custom for each person. We start with taking an impression of the
patient so if you’ve ever been to the dentist sort of a similar process. This one was from skin cancer he had developed
so his ear had to be removed. So I’m just kind of roughing in where I
want the ear to sit, sort of roughly the size I want it to be, and then I’ll start playing with more of
the detail of the forms and how things feed and roll into one another. You want it to accompany the companion ear
but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a perfect mirror image, and if it was a perfect mirror image on the
other side it would probably look stranger than one that is slightly different. I think that’s one of the reasons why this
has to be done by hand because no one is completely symmetrical, so learning how to decide what looks right
I think is the hardest part when getting into a field like this. Once you put them into the silicone and you
pull something out of the mold that’s soft and flexible and flesh toned, people will go from it not looking quite right
to all of a sudden looking much more like them. The big difference between doing an ear and
an eye is when you’re looking at someone and talking with someone you’re looking
into their eyes. You notice little things about the structures
and the colors and the arrangements when you’re getting really up close, and I’ll continue making tweaks until it
looks as consistent with the other eye as possible. So right now this would be painting the iris,
doing very fine layers of color. You’re just building it up to give an illusion
of depth. If someone notices the work that I do then
I’m not doing my job right. I mean even some doctors can’t tell. We have many patients who come in here that
say they go into the eye doctor and the doctor comes in and tries to shine a light or tries
to dilate that pupil. What people don’t realize is there are functions
to these as well. For someone with an ear it helps with hearing
because it helps makes sure that the sound directs properly. With the artificial eyes obviously I can’t
restore someone’s vision, but I can make sure that there’s comfort there’s movement,
that things feel right to them. For each patient as they grow and as they
age, as they change as things happen to them, adjustments are needed and new ones are made
over the years, so we do tend to get to know people very well. You know what I was thinking driving up here
was I’ve had a prosthesis for 53 years. It feels okay, I mean it does feel a little
foreign object-y right now but not in an uncomfortable way. I’ve been watching as you were talking earlier
and it’s not seated properly, so we’ll see if we can just tweak the shape and see
how that looks and then I will let you see before I’m done. Lots of people are so excited, especially
for patients who have had a trauma. They’ve been through a really long road
of bad news and pain, so by the time they get here they kind of
feel like they’re finally getting put back together and there can be, for some patients,
a very overwhelming sense of closure. I’ll let you see it. It’s still settling a little bit. Yeah, that’s better. You’re excited for them, for them to have
what they wouldn’t have had otherwise. And to have that be as much apart of them
as if it was what they were born with.

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