A Canadian model tattooed her eyeball purple. She now could lose her eye
WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES. A Canadian model who attempted to have her eyeball “tattooed” purple several months ago now says she is at risk of losing her eye entirely, after months of “excruciating” pain and compromised vision.
Catt Gallinger was already a fan of extreme body modification when, she said, someone offered to stain her eyeball by injecting ink into the white part of her eye. The procedure, called sclera staining, can result in a startling visual effect that has gained popularity recently among those who like altering their bodies in unconventional ways.
So Gallinger agreed and chose purple, her favourite colour. But on the day of the procedure, something went horribly wrong.
Purple ink oozed out of her eye and trickled down her cheek. The next day, the eye was swollen shut, and eventually became painfully infected. Three weeks later, the internal swelling remained and doctors told her she was at risk of going permanently blind in the affected eye, she said.
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Gallinger began posting public Facebook updates about her eye on September 20 to warn others against the procedure. By then, she said, she had visited the hospital several times and had been prescribed a slew of antibiotic and steroidal eye drops to reduce inflammation. Her vision in that eye had blurred and showed no signs of improving, she added.
“There are multiple people who can attest that my aftercare was good and any other part of what I am saying,” Gallinger wrote. “I am NOT sharing this with you to cause trouble, I am sharing this to warn you to research who you get your procedures by as well as how the procedure should be properly done.”
Gallinger has continued posting regular updates on Facebook, vacillating between resignation and anger. Her objective, she has repeatedly said, is to warn people against making the same mistake she did.
And the one constant in all her updates has been her pain.
“The pain sits in along my socket and in behind the eye, and it feels like something’s trying to push its way out,” she said in a Facebook video November 5. “I woke up with less sight today. It’s blurry again, so that’s not the greatest thing.”
On November 10: “As you can tell, the eye is swelling again. I’m not sure why. It’s super irritated. No words for the pain. None whatsoever.”
In a Facebook Live session November 17, Gallinger took issue with a video she had seen online that characterised sclera staining as “cool” but “risky”.
“Risky is, oh, I might get a scar for it or oh, it might cause a little bit of bruising. That’s risky. [Sclera staining is] downright dangerous,” she said. “This video has me, like, so worked up! The whole point of me being public, the whole point of me telling my story, the whole point of everything is to create awareness against that, is to help people realise the damage that could be done.”
More than two months later, Gallinger’s prognosis has not improved, despite some hope early on that she could undergo surgery to remove excess ink from her eye. However, she claimed her doctors were unfamiliar with what could be done, as they had never handled such a case before. Instead, a swollen layer of lavender has settled upon where the white of her affected eye should be. She has spent weeks moisturising the eye with artificial tears to combat a thinning cornea.
“If I miss a day and it dries out it’s very likely it can cause a very serious sight-loss issue as well as tear or dissolve completely in that spot,” Gallinger wrote in late October.
Gallinger said she attempted to go in for a surgery without sedation November 23, only to suffer the “worst panic attack in my life”. The skipped surgery meant she was now at high risk for eye loss, though she would still explore sedated surgery options, she said.
“This is beyond heartbreaking. I CANNOT open it at all without significant effort,” Gallinger wrote November 24. “Since I’ve always been honest on here, I will continue to be. My hope is gone. I’m very close to asking for removal. I’m so tired of it all.”
About a month ago, Gallinger started a GoFundMe account to raise money to cover the cost of her medications and for transportation to her medical appointments.
“I know many people do not understand the choice to get the tattoo,” the fundraiser stated. “But, the past is done, and the facts are clear, [Gallinger] has been victimised.”
Gallinger did not respond to initial interview requests from The Post and did not respond to follow-up messages sent Saturday through Facebook and GoFundMe.
In early updates, Gallinger accused the person who had tattooed her eyeball of misstating his qualifications and training and said she planned to take legal action.
“The procedure was done by someone who told me that they were experienced, Gallinger said in a September 25 video. “It is my fault that I believed him. It is my fault that I gave in when they repetitively asked me to do my eye.”
Gallinger identified the person as her then-boyfriend, a body modification artist, to Time magazine:
“She already has about 25 tattoos on her body, and has undergone another risky procedure to split her tongue to make it appear forked. So Gallinger said getting a sclera tattoo seemed like the next step … But Gallinger hadn’t done enough research and gave in too soon to pressure from her boyfriend, she said.
During the procedure, Gallinger said he made many errors. He did not mix the ink with any saline. He used a large needle instead of a small one, which went too deep into the eye. And instead of doing several small dosages, Gallinger just took one large injection during a 10-minute sitting.
Body modification procedures, sometimes referred to as “body mods”, include anything that changes one’s anatomy or appearance, from piercings to breast implants to foot binding. Body tattoos and ear piercings are perhaps the most common forms of body modification, but in recent years, more extreme procedures – such as tongue splitting and, yes, eyeball tattooing – have taken hold.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology strongly recommends against sclera tattooing, noting risks such as blindness or worse. The medical organisation documented a case this year in which a 24-year-old man had to have an eye removed after a “scleral tattoo gone wrong”.
“Putting any kind of needle on the eye is very dangerous,” Philip Rizzuto, an AAO spokesman, told USA Today. “We do that all the time, but we’re trained for 12 to 18 years how to go about treating the eye.”
Luna Cobra, an Australian body modification artist, claims to have invented sclera staining about a decade ago. Even he has a warning on his website against getting the procedure done by “copycats”.
“I personally have not trained anyone else to do this procedure. I have appeared on various TV/news segments though, and have inspired many copycats worldwide,” he wrote. “This is important to know because without the proper education, training, experience and guidance, these practitioners have caused vision impairments like blurred vision, spots or floaters, and even blindness. YES PEOPLE ARE NOW BLIND FROM EYEBALL TATTOOING.”
On Facebook, Gallinger said that she had been in contact with Luna Cobra since her ordeal – and added that, though she said she respected him, she had no plans to undergo the procedure again.
“Just please be cautious who you get your mods from and do your research,” Gallinger wrote. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
– The Washington Post