For Jamie from Branson, Missouri, cornea transplantation has been a truly life-enhancing experience. Jamie works for Tantone Industries, a nonprofit sheltered workshop that provides meaningful work opportunities to people like Jamie who have developmental disabilities. Additionally, as a resident of Branson, he loves to watch the country and gospel music shows for which the city is so famous. Jamie suffers from keratoconus, though, which could have caused him to go blind in both eyes, losing his ability to work and enjoy the music shows. But thanks to cornea transplantation, he has regained his sight.
“He’s never been able to see very well,” said Dorothy, Jamie’s grandmother, with whom he’s lived for the past 10 years. “About six to seven years ago, Jamie started complaining about his eyesight.” Keratoconus significantly impairs vision for about 1 in 2,000 people, but its cause remains unknown. 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.” As his eye lost its round shape, Jamie couldn’t get a pair of contacts to fit well on his eye. “Jamie’s mother is a dispensing optician,” said Dorothy. “She tried several different lenses, but he was really not able to use any of them very long.” Eventually, Dorothy took Jamie to an ophthalmologist who recommended a specialty pair, but they were difficult to put in place as well as rather expensive. “It got to the point where he’d only put them in when we went to a show or somewhere he needed to see better,” said Dorothy.
Ultimately, Jamie was referred to Dr. Tauber in Springfield, who suggested cornea transplant surgery. The first surgery took place in May 2013 and went very well. Transplant surgery for keratoconus takes longer to heal than some other cornea surgeries, so the second transplant took place 18 months later after the first was healed. But this too was a success. “Dr. Tauber said Jamie was one of his best patients,” reported Dorothy. “He was really proud of the way Jamie took care of his eyes.”
Jamie’s second transplant is still in the healing process, but his vision is already greatly improved. “I can see everything clearer,” said Jamie. “Dr. Tauber is a really good doctor. I’m happy with the transplants. I’m happy I have good eyes to see. It’s really good not wearing the contacts.” This improvement has been most noticeable at one of Jamie’s favorite pastimes: the Branson music shows. “When we go to the shows, the people know him and speak to him,” said Dorothy. “Normally we ask for a seat in the third or fourth row, but after the first surgery, we sat in the twenty-third row and he could see.”
Once his eyes heal, Jamie hopes to return to work at Tantone Industries. Tantone offers a variety of employment options to more than 40 disabled adults, and Jamie’s favorite occupation is the laundry department. “They have a commercial laundry with two huge washers and two huge dryers,” said Dorothy. “In summertime he’s especially busy because he does laundry for a youth camp, some of the motels, the police department, one of the funeral homes, table cloths for a convention center—he does it all!”
Before he returns to work, Jamie and Dorothy want to thank the families of the heroic people who donated corneas so he could see again. “Jamie is very grateful to his donors,” said Dorothy. “He grasps pretty well where his ‘new eyes’ came from.” The transplant experience has been such a success for Jamie that he and Dorothy also have become big supporters of donation. “It hurts to think about, but if donation can help someone else like Jamie or a child or whoever, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Dorothy. Jamie and Dorothy intend to participate in Saving Sight’s correspondence program so they can write to the donors’ families. “We just appreciate so much that he had these donors, and Jamie would like to express his appreciation to their families,” said Dorothy. “He wouldn’t have his eyesight back if it weren’t for the donors.”
Join Jamie, Dorothy, and the millions of Americans who support eye, organ, and tissue donation by signing up for the donor registry at the Donate Life America website or at your local motor vehicles office.