LAKEWOOD—“My mom makes eyeballs—what does yours do?”
Chelsea Lillo knows that phrase is not something most people ever get the chance to say when they are kids. But she did. Her mom, Barbara Spohn-Lillo has been doing just that for decades.
Spohn-Lillo is an "ocularist"—meaning, she makes prosthetic eyes. She is also a certified anaplastologist—meaning she makes small, facial prosthetics. She learned the craft from someone referred to as the “father of anaplastology.” She knew him simply as her dad.
“He really did bring a lot of attention to the field,” Spohn-Lillo said. “He wasn’t the only one doing this kind of work, but he was living in Silicon Valley and it was the perfect setup.”
Her dad, Walter Spohn, was the director of the anaplastology program at Stanford Medical Center. She started pitching in and painting eyes for him as a teenager.
“I think when I was 16, and I must’ve been driving my mom nuts that summer because she sent me to work with him, and I shadowed his students,” Spohn-Lillo said. “I tell everyone I started in this business in 1974, but I didn’t get paid until 1981.”
Eventually, she graduated from the program and started working in the field.
“It’s such a great way to help people, and most of the time you’re changing people’s lives,” Spohn-Lillo said. “There’s not many things you can do in life and see that instant gratification.”
The passion for the work is something she has passed down to her daughter, Chelsea Lillo, who has been working at Prosthetic Illusions since 2014. She is working on becoming board certified as well, apprenticing under her mom. She said she never remembers a time when there were not artificial eyes and prosthetics around the house.
“It’s just normal to always have body parts everywhere,” Lillo said. “My brother definitely took advantage of the prosthetics the most during Halloween--he’d be a zombie doctor and have ears hanging off of his face.”
Something Spohn-Lillo said her dad imparted in her was the willingness to help people who might not be able to afford an artificial eye or another prosthetic. She works with many Medicaid patients to make the sure cost is not passed onto them. Margarito Torres, 66, is one of those patients.
Torres lost his left eye in a fight in the 1980s. He said he has been homeless since he was 13, and said he has lost jobs because he was missing an eye. He also spent 18 years in prison as a young adult.
“I was an aggravated robber,” Torres said. “I had no morals. I didn’t feel for anybody because I didn’t have anybody.”
He said he is turning his life around, and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless helped him get a small apartment. The missing eye was a missing piece to the equation, he said.
“I just appreciate everyone helping me out, working with me,” Torres said.
After three appointments with Spohn-Lillo, Torres has a new eye and more confidence.
“It’ll stop a lot of people from staring, you know what I mean?” Torres said. “That’s the biggest problem I have.”
Torres’ new hazel-green eye is a near perfect match. Spohn-Lillo’s attention to detail is the same for all clients, whether they can pay full price or not. Her daughter said she estimates that her mom has made about 3,000 eyes.
“I don’t change a person’s life—I help them change their life,” Spohn-Lillo said.
To learn more about Prosthetic Illusions, go to their website at this link.