HONG KONG (AFP) - A six-year-old Chinese boy who had his eyes gouged out while playing outside underwent surgery on Tuesday as doctors began fitting him with realistic artificial eyeballs that move.
Eye expert Dr Dennis Lam told a press conference that schoolboy Guo Bin's four-hour operation to fit implants went "very smoothly", describing his patient as a "brave boy".
"I asked him if he wanted to be a man. He said he wanted to. I said he would be in pain and asked if he would be able to hold his tears. He said no problem."
The boy - known as Bin Bin - was found covered in blood with his eyes removed near his home in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi in August after going missing while playing outside.
Chinese police suspect his aunt, who killed herself days later, was responsible amid reports of a family row.
Dr Lam had offered to treat the boy for free at his clinic in the southern city of Shenzhen.
He will now have at least a month to recover before an ocular prosthesis is attached to each implant to give the appearance of a normal eye.
As the eyes will be attached to tissue and muscle they will be able to move normally.
Although the boy will not be able to see using the implants, doctors hope he will soon be able to feel shapes and movement using sensors on his forehead or tongue.
The sensors translate images into electronic pulses, with the user's brain eventually learning to "see" shapes as he feels them.
These types of navigation devices are already in use in Japan and Europe.
Dr Lam however, hopes the boy may eventually partially regain his sight using "bionic eyes" linked directly to the brain.
He told a press conference before the operation that this technology was at least five to 10 years away.
But he added: "We don't know if this will be successful in the end, but if there is this possibility, then why should we not give a chance to little Bin Bin?"
State news agency Xinhua named the aunt as Zhang Huiying and said she killed herself by jumping into a village well, adding that police found the boy's blood on her clothes following DNA tests.
After the attack the boy was unaware that he had been blinded, the Beijing Youth Daily said.
"He asks why the sky is always dark... and why the dawn still hasn't come," it quoted an uncle of the boy as saying.