In 2002 Kathy’s life was forever changed when she was broadsided by a driver who ran a red light while on his cell phone. Car battery acid hit both of Kathy’s eyes, causing grade 4 chemical burns. The chemical burns on her eyes caused complete limbal stem cell failure. Without limbal stem cells, Kathy’s corneas were not able to heal and her eyes became vascularized. She was told that she would have to prepare to go blind.
“Every day I’d wake up and wonder ‘How much sight am I going to lose today?’” Kathy recalled.
Kathy tried to prepare for the eventual vision loss. She learned tricks such as using color-coded keys and replacing items in cabinets in the same place each time to memorize their location. Kathy’s husband was instrumental in helping to set up the house to prepare for her vision loss- truly a team effort. However, she found that the hardest changes were her inability to work outside the home or drive a car. The loss of independence was difficult when within four months Kathy lost vision in both eyes.
She was told that regaining sight in her left eye would be hopeless, and the best they could hope for was to regain some sight in her right eye. Kathy received a limbal stem cell transplant with tissue from both a deceased donor and her daughter as a living donor. After about seven months the limbal stem cell transplant failed and Kathy remained legally blind in her right eye and completely blind in her left eye.
In 2005, Kathy’s doctor tried again to restore vision with a less common type of transplant known as a Boston Keratoprosthesis, or Boston KPro, in her left eye. In a Boston KPro transplant, the surgeon uses an artificial plastic cornea along with donor tissue to hold the artificial cornea in place. Just days after the transplant, Kathy was able to read the big E on the eye chart.
Two years later her doctor performed another KPro transplant on her right eye in an effort to restore some vision. This time, the donor tissue to help hold the artificial cornea in place was provided by a generous donor and their family from Heartland Lions Eye Banks. The transplant was also successful in restoring some lost vision.
Today, Kathy’s vision is not perfect but it is much improved from the complete blindness that she suffered from immediately after her accident.
“To those facing cornea transplants, remember that there is always hope as long as you are willing to try,” said Kathy. “You have to take that step to have hopethere is no hope if you don’t!”
As a recipient of multiple tissue transplants, Kathy feels committed to educating others about the importance of both organ and tissue donation and sight preservation. Shortly after receiving her second transplant from Heartland, Kathy was inspired to join her local Lions club. Today, she is incoming president of the Palmdale Lions club and volunteers with the club’s eye care assistance program.
Above all, Kathy is thankful for the gifts of sight that her donors were able to provide. Throughout the past nine years she had 13 ocular surgeries and benefited from the tissue donations of nine different individuals.
“I have a lot of people to thank when I get to heaven,” remarked Kathy.