Harry Bell

CHARLESTON - Twenty-nine years later, Harry Bell can still feel something in his eye.

"I remember the really creepy feeling of running cold water over my eyes because it felt like something was in there and it burned really bad," the founder of Charleston law firm Bell and Bands said.

What he felt was a scratch on his cornea.

At the end of his first semester of law school at West Virginia University, Bell was one of the brave few wearing hard contact lenses - it was 1977, after all.

After dealing with the scratched cornea, missing his regularly scheduled final exams and losing much of his winter break while making them up, Bell has no need for contacts - hard or soft. In fact, he said the best aspect of his current eye doctor is that he is "conservative."

So when Bausch and Lomb announced that a certain contacts solution might be causing serious eye infections, Bell felt compelled to step forward.

"With eyes, you don't want to monkey around with them," said Bell, now strictly a glasses-wearer. "People get naturally very upset, concerned and worried about their eyes.

"We've been involved with several different pharmaceutical products. Things come up and if we're able to represent someone and help some people cut through things that lead to resolutions, we do it.

"A lot of people don't know where to turn."

More than 50 people, Bell said, turned to his firm, though he says only a handful are West Virginians, after Bausch and Lomb asked retailers on April 13 to pull its "ReNu with MoistureLoc" contacts solution from the shelves.

Bell said the product was created by a new process and was produced only in Bausch and Lomb's Greenville, S.C., plant.

"What happened with that has been a marked increase in the rise of certain types of infections," Bell said. "If not treated, it can cause very serious problems."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that public officials in 17 states were investigating 109 cases of Fusarium keratitis, a rare fungal infection that damages the cornea.

Eight patients had to undergo corneal transplants.

The cases are still being investigated to create a clear cause, and Bell is in no hurry to file anything. He admitted that Bausch and Lomb is handling the matter properly by offering refunds. In the 30 first cases investigated, 28 were soft contact-wearers and two did not wear contacts.

"We find ourselves in a position where the safety of one of our products, ReNu with MoistureLoc manufactured at our United States plant, is in question," Bausch and Lomb Chairman and CEO Ron Zarella wrote in a letter to consumers that was published in several newspapers, including USA Today.

"We've done a series of exhaustive tests on the product and a thorough inspection of the plant, and nothing has yet been found to show that ReNu with MoistureLoc contributed to these infections in any way. However, in the cases of infections reviewed to date, the majority of patients reported using ReNu with MoistureLoc manufactured at our U.S. factory."

"They acknowledged they have a problem and pulled the product out," Bell added.

While the problem gets ironed out - Bell has two years to file a lawsuit - he said he has spoken with experts about the situation and advised his clients to seek medical help.

He just can't bear to see anyone taking an unnecessary risk with his or her eyes.

"Anytime you have something like this you have to make sure people are taken care of and keep from having any type of harm happening to them," he said.

Having represented two individuals in a case years ago where a laser eye-corrective surgery machine had defective parts, causing serious injury, certainly doesn't help Bell feel any easier about the contacts solution problem.

"People come up and say, 'Help I was injured.' I tell them to get to the doctor's and get evaluated and get the necessary treatment," he said.

"A great way of cutting back the number of claims we have to deal with is people not getting hurt."

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