Cathy from Bethalto, Illinois didn’t know she was suffering from a serious eye disease until she sought a consultation for Lasik surgery. The surgeon explained that the reason her contacts no longer fit and why she wasn’t a candidate for Lasik was because the shape of her cornea was slowly changing due to keratoconus. According to the National Keratoconus Foundation, the disease “is a non-inflammatory eye condition in which the normally round dome shaped cornea progressively thins, causing a cone-like bulge to develop.” Keratoconus significantly impairs vision for about 1 in every 2,000 people, but its cause remains unknown. Cathy began using rigid, gas permeable contact lenses that helped give her eyes a smooth, rounded shape, resulting in better vision. But as the keratoconus progressed, her doctor eventually recommended corneal transplantation.
“I was almost blind in my right eye,” Cathy said. “I could see but not focus, so I couldn’t make out faces until they were within a foot or two of me.” She received a transplant on her right eye in St. Louis and experienced no complications with the surgery. “I still wear gas-permeated contacts because my eye’s still slightly three misshapen, but my vision is clear and close to 20/20 in the right eye.” Cathy is currently waiting to pursue treatment on her left eye. A promising experimental treatment called corneal cross-linking, which boosts the deteriorated collagen that causes the eye’s misshapenness, may become a viable procedure, but it hasn’t completed FDA clinical trials. According to the Mayo Clinic, corneal transplantation remains a very successful treatment for people experiencing corneal scarring or extreme thinning of the cornea.
For now, though, Cathy is able to see very well with her contacts and new cornea. “I consider myself lucky because my cornea transplant was a very easy process,” Cathy said. “It was nerve-wracking, but the recovery time was easy and I had no pain.” As a working mother of three daughters, she became acutely aware of just how important her sight was to her family life. “You take sight for granted,” she added. “My kids would bring me papers for school, but I couldn’t help them without contacts in. It made me very confused. You’re aware of things around you, but everything’s such a blur.” What’s more, Cathy’s experience has made her better able to appreciate her grandmother who was blind in her later years. “She would get easily frustrated, and I felt that way a lot of times,” Cathy reported. “The transplant has helped because I don’t feel that way as much anymore.”
“I feel very blessed,” said Cathy. “It’s ironic because I’m registered as an organ donor, but you don’t think about eyes or corneas. A small part of someone’s body has made a big impact on me.” Thanks to her donor and donor family, Cathy is more able to engage with her life and her children. “My oldest daughter is a senior this year,” she said, “so I’m now getting to experience her life alongside her while she experiences it.”