For Connie, the road to restored sight was a journey she wasn’t sure would happen. At first, a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) blood clot in her leg stopped the process and she had over six months of healing before she could try her eye surgery again. During her second scheduled appointment, COVID hit and shut down all elective surgeries. After waiting one and a half years, it seemed the third time was the charm, and Connie received her corneal transplants in June and August of 2020.
Awaiting Corneal Transplants
While healing from her DVT blood clot, Connie wasn’t sure if she would ever be able to have her corneal transplants because she was having trouble both walking and seeing. “I reached out to the Springfield Missouri Council of the Blind and they were a great help. They brought me magnifying glasses and books on tape through Woolford Library. Everything they do is free, and they even brought me the best sunglasses. It was so easy, and they were so kind – I appreciated it so much.”
Connie, 72, says she lives about an hour outside of Springfield on 100 acres and in a home she built about 40 years ago. The Council of the Blind came out to her house since she wasn’t able to drive. “I’m not ready to give up my land and my house. They helped me out enough that I can not only survive out here but thrive.”
Corneal Transplantation Experience
“For the last ten years, I had been dealing with Fuchs dystrophy. I think I could have lived with Fuchs a little bit longer, but my cataracts started to get really bad,” says Connie.
“My surgeon, Dr. Seagrave, was just exceptional and so was his nurse Barbara. My experience was a surgery that lasted about an hour and there wasn’t any pain involved.” Dr. Seagrave was able to perform her cataract surgery and corneal transplant surgery at the same time. “He said doing them together was the most efficient and it gave me less overall healing time. That’s why I like Dr. Seagrave, because I felt he was up to date in procedures. It was wonderful only having two surgeries instead of four.”
Life After Transplantation
“I can’t tell you how much it means to have my vision back.” Connie can get back to her fabric studio in her home. “I used to do a lot of intricate handwork. I love quilting and embroidery. I was noticing how bad my vision was getting because it was getting hard to see to do that. Now I’m able to do it again! I did an incredible quilt for my daughter this year with lots of precision cutting.”
Connie has also always been a huge reader and it was challenging for her not being able to read print. She’s happy to see to read again, though she still isn’t able to read regular print easily. She has been reading on a backlit Kindle since she was first diagnosed.
Connecting Through Saving Sight’s Correspondence Program
“I wrote a letter to the donor families. My whole philosophy of life is to just be grateful for what you have. When I had the corneal transplant, it was like getting a superpower. When this happened and it worked, I just realized how lucky I was. If somebody hadn’t donated corneas, I wouldn’t be able to see.”
“I decided to wait to write the letters until both transplants were done. I thought, what a heavy letter. I wanted to say thank you and tell them how much it really changed my life.”
Kansas City artist, Gabriella Mountain, was most well known for her larger-than-life abstract sculptures, mosaics, and stained-glass pieces. As an artist, she was diverse in her craft, creating commissioned works throughout the Kansas City area, including the old Main Library’s mosaic floor at 12th and McGee and the stained-glass windows at the Whiteman Air Force base chapel. Gabriella lived a remarkable and storied life, beginning in Hungary in 1918. After fleeing from war-torn Europe at the end of World War II, she came to America and started her life and career as an artist in the City area.
Gabriella Mountain, via Dignity Memorial
Dragons repousse door, via KCStudio
While she was a well-established and awarded artist, Gabriella’s struggle with vision loss was lesser-known. After suffering from Fuchs’ Corneal Dystrophy for years, Gabriella received a sight-restoring corneal transplant surgery in March of 2013. While she was 95 years old, the transplant improved her vision, allowing her to continue creating beautiful works of art. In her later years, Gabriella transitioned from creating metal sculptures to abstract textile and fiber art.
After a long and beautiful life, Gabriella passed away in May 2020 at the age of 102. In gratitude for the gift of sight, she left a gift to Saving Sight to continue our work restoring sight to others. We remember Gabriella in memoriam for her vision as an artist and her vision to serve others by supporting Saving Sight.
If you are interested in making a gift to change lives by Saving Sight, please visit saving-sight.org/give or reach out to our communications team to discuss leaving your legacy with a planned gift.
Thanks to a cornea transplant, Anne is able to keep working at her home art studio.
Anne is an artist who resides in Gladstone, Missouri, a municipality in the Kansas City area. Now retired, she focuses on creating artwork for her friends and acquaintances, and she is active in her community as the planning commissioner. In 1980, however, Anne was diagnosed with a hereditary eye disease that causes vision to get worse as an inner layer of the cornea deteriorates. “I went to see my doctor for my yearly exam,” Anne said, “and I was diagnosed with Fuchs’ corneal dystrophy, which, if left untreated, would have blinded me in the left eye.”
For some time, Anne was able to continue her work, both as a teacher and an artist, by keeping routine appointments with her doctor. Together, they could retain her vision by regularly updating the prescription of her glasses. By 2007, however, her doctor finally recommended her to a corneal transplant specialist to fix her vision once and for all. Dr. Tim Cavanaugh of the Cavanaugh Eye Center conducted the operation, replacing the diseased portion of her cornea with corneal tissue donated by a generous donor and their family.
The transplant was a success. “I had to stay still for a day or two after surgery, but my vision in the left eye was 20/30 afterward,” Anne said. “It was a very easy procedure to go through.” Furthermore, the benefits of the surgery have continued for Anne. “I ordered new glasses after the surgery, and I am still wearing those glasses,” she said. “My sight has changed so little in seven years that new lenses are not necessary.”
Today, Anne continues to make art, including creating the cover art for Saving Sight’s 2014 holiday card. She is very thankful for the opportunity the transplant has afforded her, both personally and professionally. “I owe so much to the donor, my doctors, and Saving Sight,” she said. “Thanks to the cornea transplant, I can not only see but also continue as an artist.”
To join the millions of Americans who have signed up for the donor registry, register online at Donate Life America or at your local Department of Motor Vehicles office. And be sure to share your decision with your family and friends.
Susan, from Grandview, MO, is back to quilting and her other favorite hobbies thanks to her cornea donors, her surgeon, and Saving Sight.
“Five or six years ago, when I renewed my driver’s license, I almost failed the vision test. They told me I wouldn’t pass the next time,” said Sue of Grandview, Missouri. “So I decided to see an ophthalmologist for an eye exam before my next driver’s test.” However, Sue’s vision problems persisted. “Then one summer, three years ago, I went outside on a very bright day,” she said. “I saw little shards of sparkles in the air. I couldn’t figure out what it was—it was annoying and only happened in the sunlight.” At her doctor’s recommendation, Sue visited Sabates Eye Center in Leawood where she was diagnosed with Fuchs’ corneal dystrophy,a disease that causes the corneas to deteriorate. “The doctors said I was going blind,” Sue remembered. “That’s scary to hear, but they told me it’s a curable disease.” Approximately a year later in August 2013, with the diagnosis of Fuchs’ dystrophy confirmed, Sue received her first corneal transplant, which replaced the diseased part of her cornea.
Sue has experienced vision problems her whole life. As a child, she suffered from amblyopia (“lazy eye”) and had almost no sight in her left eye. She wore a patch over the stronger eye to help strengthen the weak eye, a common treatment for amblyopia. “I started wearing glasses at six years old, and that’s the first time I saw that things have hard lines,” she said.
After her first transplant surgery, Sue admits to feeling impatient and disappointed with the results. “I didn’t know that it takes time for the cells to grow, plus I didn’t get new glasses until after the second transplant in December,” she said. By February or March, after the second surgery, her sight was improving. “At each checkup my sight was a little better,” she said. “I was able to read small font and see better at a distance. I am seeing things I haven’t seen in years.”
Sue’s vision continued to improve. “I learned I had to be patient and trust my doctor,” she said. “Stay in good communication and develop a good relationship with the doctor. Mine is very good. I trust her skill and knowledge.” But the moment of realization for Sue, when she knew how far her vision had improved, was when she was quilting, one of her favorite pastimes. “I started a landscape quilt for my husband while recovering from the first surgery,” she said. “After the second surgery, I took it up again to work on. I sat down at the sewing machine to change the thread. Just a month before, I had to ask other people to thread the needle for me. Without thinking about what I was doing, I started to thread the needle, and I did it. It took me a moment to realize what I had just done. I was so excited!”
Another of Sue’s hobbies is oil painting. Before the transplant surgeries, everything was dark and slightly fuzzy for her. “My teacher asked me why I paint everything so dark,” Sue said. “I told her, ‘I don’t, that’s the way I see it.’ Now, the colors I see are so brilliant. I realized that not a lot of light was getting into my eyes, so I couldn’t see true colors. In the distance, I could not see tree leaves or birds in the sky. The loss was so gradual I didn’t realize for a long time just how bad my sight had gotten.”
Two miniature quilts Sue gave to Saving Sight as part of her “The Grateful Series.”
With her sight restored, Sue is back to work as a guest service representative at Target and returned to her favorite hobbies: quilting, painting,
reading, gardening, and baking. In fact, she’s currently at work on creating a series of miniature quilts: one for each of her cornea donors’ families, two for Saving Sight, one for her surgeon, Dr. Macaluso, and one for herself. “People have helped me and I wanted to show how grateful I am for their gifts. Now I can continue to enjoy my passion for color through painting and quilting.”
To join the millions of Americans like Suewho signed up for the donor registry, register online at Donate Life America or at your local Department of Motor Vehicles office. And be sure to share your decision with your family and friends.