Pilots undergo regular medical exams to retain their eligibility to fly, and a major component of that exam is the vision test. They must be able to see 20/20 with correction. Laren from Loose Creek, Missouri was told by his optometrist that he would someday need corneal transplants to repair his eyesight, so when Laren could no longer pass his pilot medical certification, he knew it was time to undergo surgery. “I just couldn’t give up flying,” Laren said. “At some point, this transplant would need to be done anyway so I said yes, and I was in the surgeon’s office a week or two later to do the procedure.”
Laren is semi-retired at this point and now flies corporate jets part-time. His vision was always a problem for him – he suffers from cataracts and Fuchs’ dystrophy – but he’d always been able to correct his vision to the level necessary for flight. In early October 2013, Laren was told he could no longer pass the vision portion of the exam, and his optometrist referred him to Dr. Luetkemeyer in Jefferson City. Dr. Luetkemeyer performed the surgery on Laren’s right cornea, and thanks to advances in surgery techniques, Laren was able to walk out of the office two hours later and pass his pilot’s medical exam eight weeks later in December. “I didn’t realize it would be such an easy procedure,” he said. “It’s amazing how much clearer things are and how they look after that transplant.”
Laren has said that his transplant experience made him more aware of eye, organ, and tissue donation. “I’ve always wanted to be a donor,” he said, “but when you get the impact of it on this side, it’s unbelievable. Everybody should be a donor, everybody.” And he’s also very thankful to the person who made the
selfless decision to donate the cornea he received. “The flat-out experience of being a recipient of a donor, knowing what someone else has done and how it affects you, sheds a whole new light on donation,” Laren said. “Especially for me. Eyesight is one of the most critical things when you crawl in the cockpit. Your eyesight has to be very, very good. So I can’t express enough thanks.”
With renewed vision and medical clearance to fly, Laren was back in the air for his first post-transplant flight in January. “It was just unbelievable,” he recalled. “Especially at altitude it can be so clear anyway. There was just day-and-night difference, what you can see, other airplanes, seeing the ground from 40,000 feet. I’m so thankful that I’m able to keep flying, something I love to do. I’m able to keep flying these jets. So I can’t express enough thanks to the donor who returned my sight.”
Join Laren and the millions of Americans who have declared their choice to be eye, organ, and tissue donors by signing up for the donor registry at the Donate Life America website or the local Department of Motor Vehicles office.