Dad of three, Lee Deakin, 37, was the victim of a brutal chemical attack outside his home in St Helens in April 2019 which left him blind. After being rushed to his local hospital, he was referred to St Paul’s Eye Unit at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to try and save his sight. Lee tells us his story:
“I’d gone to get my charger out of the boot of my car at around 9pm, when I was jumped from behind and had a chemical liquid thrown on my face. I managed to grab hold of one of my attackers, but let go a few seconds later when I started to the feel the effects of what they’d done. All I could feel was intense burning - it felt like my face was melting off. I was instantly blind, but managed to find my way into my house and call for my partner, Amy, who called the emergency services. I ran into the bathroom and put the shower on, cold and full power, and blasted it into my eyes. All I could hear was Amy’s screams – I thought my face was falling off.
“Minutes later, the police, fire brigade and ambulance arrived and told me to keep rinsing my eyes. After 20 minutes, I was rushed to the severe burns unit at Whiston Hospital. I was distraught, I thought I would never see again and I had no idea whether my face was disfigured or not. After being seen at St Helen’s Eye Clinic for checks and medication, I was referred to St Paul’s Eye Unit within the Royal Liverpool University Hospital because of the severity of my burns - my eyes were effectively two open wounds on my face.
“Dr Rahul Dwivedi treated me at St Paul’s and arranged my surgery for the next day. I had amniotic membrane transplants on both eyes, an operation which stiches the innermost layer of a placenta onto the front section of the eye to try and regrow the damaged cells. My surgeon, Mr Mark Batterbury, said that my injuries were one of the worst he’s seen in his 23-year career.
“On my ward at night after everyone had gone, I’d sit in my world of darkness and think, “I really, really hope this works, because if it doesn’t, I don’t think I can live this way”.
“I was sent home to let the transplants heal, still completely blind, which impacted my life in so many ways. It was so frustrating not being able to do the most basic of things, like putting toothpaste on my toothbrush or checking what was in the fridge. I was robbed of my independence and quality of life. I’m a self-employed driver and couldn’t work, so as the main provider for my partner and children, it had a huge financial impact on us. I was also studying to become a financial advisor which I had to stop, and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to start again. It felt like I had lost everything.
“If I’d have been born blind, I think I could have grown and adapted to life without seeing the world, but to have your sight snatched away in a moment after 37 years, I honestly don’t know if I could have lived my life like that. I can’t describe how hard it was having no choice but to rely on everyone around you for everything. My son is five, my youngest daughter is nine and oldest daughter is 18, and it broke my heart to think that in ten years’ time, I might not know what they look like. You don’t realise how much you take your sight for granted until it’s gone.
“After seven weeks of blindness, the membrane in my eye had dissolved and for the first time - I could see. I walked out of the hospital after an appointment with my partner and just stopped and broke down. I’d been a prisoner in my own body and after weeks of pain and uncertainty, I could see.
“I’m thankful that the attack ended after the chemicals were thrown. It’s changed my life and it’s made me want to raise awareness of what to do if you are attacked with chemicals, show potential perpetrators the excruciating pain and suffering that can be caused and thank everyone for the world-leading specialist care I’ve received.
“I was lucky to have got help within minutes of the chemicals hitting my face, but if they had stayed on for one minute more, my outcome would have been very different. My eyes were completely red and very swollen for a while which still replays in my children’s minds. Now my eyes look almost back to normal, my five-year-old son said that I look like his ‘real dad’ again now.
“I can never repay the wonderful team who looked after me. From the emergency services who gave me the immediate instructions to minimise the damage, the surgeons who performed my sight-saving surgery, to the nurses and cleaners who made me crack a smile when I was going through the darkest time of my entire life. The kindness and care I’ve received has really made all the difference and without all these people, I would categorically be blind and disfigured. I nearly lost everything, and they gave it back to me, and I’m so happy that I still look like my children’s dad. I don’t just owe them my sight, I owe them my life.
“I call this experience my ‘dark gift’. It’s made me so grateful for the people I have in my life and I’ve met loads of wonderful people through it. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to losing my life. I’ve still got a way to go on my road to recovery and I’m not through the woods yet, but I’m positive about the future and I really hope my story helps others.”
Anyone with information about Lee’s attack is asked to DM @MerPolCC, or call 101 quoting reference 0873 of 14 April or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
UPDATE ON LEE'S CONDITION
Unfortunately Lee's left eye has since deteriorated and he will need a cornea transplant operation to help save some of his sight. We will keep you updated on Lee's condition going forward and wish him the best of luck on his road to recovery.