Losing your eyesight is incredibly devastating on its own. But to suffer from unbearable pain while your vision quickly vanishes is something many of us can’t imagine.
Since she was a child, Elaine of East Alton, Ill. had problems with her eyesight. She underwent two surgeries in childhood to correct her strabismus, a muscle disorder that caused her right eye to misalign, and as she grew older, began suffering from glaucoma and dry eye. Yet nothing could have prepared her for her battle with Fuchs’ dystrophy, a genetic disease which would quickly destroy her cornea.
In July 2011, after Elaine began noticing her eyes were watering uncontrollably, her doctor upped her dry eye medication. However, the condition became excruciating – Elaine’s eye was red and swollen, causing her incredible discomfort and affecting her ability to work. Three weeks later, she was diagnosed with Fuchs’ dystrophy, and four months later, learned that ¾ of her right cornea was destroyed. An immediate cornea transplant would be the only way to save her vision.
Unfortunately, another eye problem would step in the way of her recovery – Elaine underwent a cataracts surgery in January 2012. The 30 days between her cataracts surgery and her transplant were filled with fear as the medicine did little to relieve her agony. “When medicine controlled the pain, that was one thing. I thought, ‘I can do this.’ But when it stopped working, the pain was indescribable. The watering made my dry eye worse, which was a constant cycle. In the end, it was unbearable.”
The Fuchs’ eventually impacted all areas of her life – the eye disease held her back from doing the things she loved. “Without a transplant, I knew I couldn’t keep working. I basically kept myself in the house, and I gained weight because I was so miserable. I’m used to going out, seeing my friends, having people over for dinner – but the condition got to be too painful. There was nothing the doctors could do.”
Finally, seven months after her diagnosis, Elaine underwent a much-anticipated transplant on her right eye, using tissue donated by a generous donor family.
Soon after surgery, her pain disappeared and her sight began to reappear. Someone who could see figures with her right eye, but not well enough to read – even with glasses – could now read the third line on an eye chart with her glasses.
Elaine no longer has to fear having to quit her job as an inpatient coder for a large St. Louis hospital because of going blind in both eyes at the same time. Now, when her left eye progresses to the end stage of the disease, she will have her right eye to see with. Because her transplant eliminated her intense pain, Elaine is also back to the hobbies she loves, including playing board games, listening to music, dancing, exercising, and playing with her cats.
For Elaine, her donor family has improved her life dramatically and reaffirmed her lifelong decision to become an organ donor herself. “It’s so hard to describe in words, but my donor family has given me my life back. I can work, I can enjoy life, I can go out again. I can have my right eye open and not be in severe pain. Before the surgery, I would have taken blindness over the pain. Now I’ve got everything – I’ve got an eye I can see out of, and I don’t have the pain. I can’t thank them enough.”