Correspondence after donation and transplantation can be a positive part of the healing process for many people. Saving Sight offers donor families and cornea transplant recipients the opportunity to write to each other in a safe, positive environment. Acting as an intermediary, Saving Sight accepts the letters and then passes them on to the appropriate parties, which helps preserve everyone’s anonymity. Recipients and donor families alike have said that correspondence had therapeutic effects.
When Bonnie’s son, Cody, died in Divernon, Illinois after a car accident, he was able to donate skin and corneas. “Cody always wanted to be an organ donor,” she said. One of his corneas was received by Charlotte from Clinton, Missouri, who needed the transplant to treat a corneal infection that threatened to destroy her entire eye. Quite soon after her transplant surgery, Charlotte initiated the correspondence process with the help of Paul, her son who lived with her and cared for the family farm. Paul said his mother was eager to correspond with her donor’s family because she understood loss, having recently lost two grandchildren. “Because of that unselfish loved one was a donor and gave me a gift, I still have my eye,” Paul remembered Charlotte saying. “So she wanted to contact the family and thank them.”
With Paul’s help, Charlotte sent a letter to Saving Sight which was then passed on to Scarlett, Cody’s wife. “Scarlett didn’t feel like she was ready to correspond, so I asked permission to correspond instead,” said Bonnie. And with that, Bonnie and Charlotte began the process of getting to know each other. “Charlotte was very understanding that someone died to give her this cornea,” Bonnie recalled. “She was a really sweet lady.”
When people correspond for more than a year and both parties consent to communicating without anonymity, Saving Sight will connect the donor family and recipient so they can pursue contact on their own. Bonnie and Charlotte wrote several letters in that first year and continued contact in the years that followed.
“We talked on the phone sometimes, at birthdays and at Christmas,” Bonnie said. Eventually, Bonnie offered to visit Charlotte at her home in Clinton. “My daughter Tara and I had discussed from the time I first started corresponding with Charlotte how we would love to meet her, although we knew it would be difficult on us. However, Tara was unable to come with me so I drove there on June 16, 2012, which was Cody and Scarlett’s wedding anniversary,” Bonnie said. “I stayed at Charlotte’s house for three or four hours and met Paul. We had a wonderful visit. It was nice to have a part of Cody with her, to know that he lived on. Cody had big blue beautiful eyes, and I just loved the fact that I got to meet her and look in her eyes.” Paul said the feeling was mutual: “It meant a lot to Mom to get to finally meet the person behind the voice on the phone, as Mom was unable to travel long trips.”
Despite the happiness of meeting Charlotte face to face, Bonnie also found the experience to be emotionally trying. “I held it all together until I drove out of her driveway, and then I cried all the way home,” Bonnie said. “It was Father’s Day the next day and just meeting her – she was a wonderful lady. She was very appreciative of how Cody had died but was willing to give his cornea. She never took it for granted. That’s why she wrote the letter – she wanted to know about the person who donated and his family.”
Charlotte’s daughter made quilted table cloths, and she gave one to Bonnie as a keepsake from their visit. “I cherish that,” Bonnie said. “Charlotte had health issues, and I think she knew we wouldn’t see each other again.” In April of 2013, Charlotte passed away at the age of 91, and thanks to Paul’s care, she was able to remain on the farm until a few days before her death.
Paul described his mother as having “an abundance of love that she shared with her eight children and many outside her family” and that she “was proud of Bonnie’s friendship.” Bonnie, too, looks back fondly on the trip: “I felt so fortunate to have met Charlotte. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to meet someone who has your son’s cornea. But I can’t say enough how blessed I felt by it all.”
To learn more about the young man whose generous donation brought Bonnie and Charlotte together, read Cody’s story. To learn more about Saving Sight’s correspondence process, visit our cornea donation and transplantation page.