John Drakes

Eye op takes the sting out of beekeeping

For Whitby man, John Drakes, beekeeping has been both a fascinating hobby and a career for 35 years, but latterly with the nuisance of glasses.  That has all changed since an operation at Optegra Eye Hospital Yorkshire which has freed him from specs for the first time in 20 years.

John, aged 66, who needed separate glasses for close-up and distance vision, explains that one of the biggest perils of beekeeping was standing in front of over 50,000 bees at a hive and having to lift the protective veil to either swap glasses, or wipe them clear when steamed-up on hot days.

He explains: “When beekeeping, you have to look very closely for minute eggs as small as 1.5 mm long, and also for signs of disease in the structure of the larva, but also have to check on bees in the distance – so for years I was frustrated at having to continually change my glasses. I was also worried, as it meant lifting my veil to change specs, which would often allow bees in at the same time! On more than one occasion I was stung which was so painful and is always dangerous near the eyes and mouth.

John did move on to bifocals, but still had to wipe them when steamed up and so he considered laser eye surgery for some years, but was apprehensive.  He recently went to an open evening at specialist eye hospital Optegra in Bradford, where he heard about an alternate treatment, Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE).

RLE is an eye operation easily compared to the commonly performed cataract procedure – but the lens is personally tailored to meet individual prescription needs and so can allow patients to be free of glasses.

John explains the impact: “My surgeon Mr. Backhouse and all the team completely reassured me so I was not worried about the treatment at all.  I was so calm, as though I was going for a haircut!

“Just four weeks on from my procedure, and it’s fantastic! I love my hobby so much, and can now enjoy talking to the bees, opening up the hive, watching them go about their daily business. My eyes are like they were when I was a teenager and I can even see the different colours of pollen on the bees’ legs – I find it fascinating. Everyday I cannot believe how good my sight is, though habit means I keep reaching for glasses which are no longer there!”

Mr. Backhouse, consultant eye surgeon at Optegra Eye Hospital Yorkshire, said: “We were delighted to help Mr. Drakes and have such a fantastic outcome.  The beauty of this procedure is not only tailoring the lens to the exact right prescription, but also to suit the individual needs of the patient and their lifestyle. 


“For Mr.Drakes, who was longsighted needing glasses both for distance and for near, he needs to focus on such tiny eggs and detail of the developing bees in the hive, it was essential that his close up vision was as sharp as possible – but at the same time he can now enjoy distance vision as well without the hassle of glasses steaming up. As a fellow bee keeper, I know how hot it can get in a bee suit with thousands of bees flying around your head!”


Now retired and enjoying beekeeping as a hobby with hives in Scarborough and Harrogate, John had previously run a farm in Cardigan, West Wales, where he was a commercial beekeeper with over 400 hives.

He moved to Yorkshire 10 years ago and became a seasonal bee inspector, travelling from Middlesbrough to Scarborough and covering all the North Yorkshire Moors, meeting hundreds of beekeepers and examining all the bee hives in the area to check for disease and also share advice with new beekeepers.

John, from Egton Bridge near Whitby, met his partner Janice through beekeeping and she too is due to have RLE in the coming weeks. John is also a keen musician, with a passion for folk music which he enjoys singing, playing acoustic guitar and song writing.

Optegra Eye Hospital Yorkshire treats the A to Z of all eye health care and is based in Apperley Bridge, Bradford as well as Optegra Eye Laser Centre Leeds which is now open six days a week.


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