In April 2013, Saving Sight shared a story about Arnold, a happy-go-lucky man who donated his corneas to give the gift of sight to others. Arnold was a long-haul truck driver from Maine who passed away while in Springfield, Illinois for work, and his wife, Marie, supported his decision to become a donor, even though she was hundreds of miles away. “Following through with his wish to be a donor was never a hesitation in my shock and grief,” she said.
After the donation, Marie corresponded with one of the recipients of Arnold’s corneal tissue and learned a lot from the experience. She had this to share: “[Donation] isn’t just something you do – it’s life-changing for the recipients and the people who are left behind. Science gives us the technology to make these gifts happen, but without people giving so unselfishly, we could not bring about the life-changing results I have witnessed firsthand.”
Recently, Vince Dixon, a family friend of Marie, was touched by the stories of Arnold and other donors. And he decided to honor them and draw attention to the importance of donation by writing an original song, “Heart of a Hero,” which he then posted as a video to YouTube. Arnold is prominently featured in the video, starting at one minute and thirty seconds and at the end. Watch and listen to “Heart of a Hero” below to see the lasting impact Arnold has had as a donor.
Watch family friend Vince Dixon’s video tribute to Arnold and other donors featuring his original song, “Heart of a Hero.”
After her vision returned following her cornea transplant, Mary was able to grab her camera to capture the images she had missed seeing for years.
At age 42, Mary of Emporia, KS was diagnosed with Fuchs’ dystrophy, a progressive disease in which one’s vision becomes blurred. Like many younger patients who face the disease, Mary wondered how she could juggle her family and busy career as her eyesight deteriorated.
Explained Mary, “It seemed to progress quickly, and I had stopped driving at night, which was so difficult having kids and activities. I no longer felt comfortable doing certain things at work, and I felt panicked (and a little pitiful) that was losing my vision. I even convinced my husband to move into town so that I wouldn’t have to drive home in the dark the 10 miles out that we lived.”
While Mary found ways to adapt her life and her work as a nurse around Fuchs’, a tragic turn of events made simply dealing with her vision loss no longer viable. A few years after her diagnosis, Mary put her own health concerns to the side to help her husband in his fight against cancer, which eventually took his life.
“A few months after he died, I realized my vision had gotten significantly worse, and as the sole parent, I had to be able to drive at night and had to be able to work. It was time to do something!”
In December 2010, Mary received a cornea transplant on her right eye with tissue provided by a donor family. Their gift was especially poignant after Mary’s own loss. “They are my miracle. I know the pain of their loss and am so appreciative that in the midst of their grief, they chose to make a gift that changed my life. It really hit me because my surgery was right before Christmas, and I know how hard the first Christmas is without your loved one, having just experienced that the previous year. I ached for them, and prayed that they might find peace.”
Mary’s transplant was a sight-saving success. Although her recovery required her to lie on her back for 72 hours and she endured some minor pain and irritation, her vision has improved considerably since her surgery – “It’s like having an HDTV in that eye! Everything is so clear and crisp, it’s absolutely amazing!”
Within two days, Mary was able to see the numbers on her alarm clock without glasses, and within two weeks, she no longer saw halos around streetlights as she drove in the dark. Her transplant has given her more confidence in her job and has allowed her to enjoy her favorite activities – reading, gardening, photography, and participating in church activities – in beautiful, brilliant clarity.
Today, Mary encourages her fellow Kansans to consider pledging to give the gift of sight by joining www.donatelifekansas.com.
“We don’t like to think that anything bad could happen to our loved ones or ourselves. The reality is that bad things, tragic things, can happen to good people all the time. Organ and tissue donation is a chance to transform that tragedy into a miracle. How beautiful to think that your last act on earth would be life-saving or changing for another – what a loving legacy!”
Ramona’s paintings capture colors of
the beautiful world that she can now see clearly.
Losing precious sight from corneal blindness can be an overwhelming and difficult experience for many. For Ramona, who experienced a decade of vision loss from posterior polymorphous corneal dystrophy (PPMD) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), it was devastating. As a watercolor art hobbyist, Ramona relies on her vision to paint scenes and portraits. However, as her vision diminished, painting the world around her became increasingly difficult. Ramona struggled with vision loss for years.
“I would get up in the morning and have blurred vision. No one knew what it was,” she commented. The vision in her left eye, in particular, was troublesome. After undergoing cataract surgeries on both eyes, Ramona was then diagnosed with AMD- a disease that gradually destroys sharp central vision. She began treatment for AMD, but then suffered a hemorrhage in the left eye. Together, the AMD and damage from the hemorrhage caused spots of permanent loss in her central vision. But the remainder of the vision in her left eye was still blurry.
After visiting a specialist, it was determined that Ramona’s left cornea had a very low cell count. Eventually, she was diagnosed with PPMD- a fairly uncommon disorder that causes lesions on innermost layer of cells in the cornea. In March of 2011, Ramona underwent a corneal transplant to restore the remaining sight in her left eye.
Today, Ramona’s vision has improved drastically thanks to a caring individual who made the decision to become an eye donor. Although she still has areas of permanent vision loss and is undergoing treatment of AMD in both eyes, a new clear cornea has allowed her to paint again. “Painting is one hobby that I do not want to give up,” remarked Ramona.
After experiencing so many problems with her vision over the years, Ramona is a strong advocate to her friends and family reminding them to make regular visits to their eye care specialist. Early detection and treatment of vision conditions like AMD play a key role in reducing the extent of vision lost to this disease.
A talented musician, Max created drum cadences that continue to be performed by his high school band,
When 18-year-old Max passed away following an auto accident, the world lost a talented young man. Yet, Max’s legacy lives on – both through his incredible music and his gift of sight.
As a high school student in Kansas, Max discovered a passion for music. He was the captain of his school’s drum line and played percussion in two church praise bands, so it was no surprise when the talented teen received a college scholarship to study music education.
While his talent defined much of who he was, it was his caring spirit that truly impacted those around him. Said his mother, Pam, “One year he found out that a disabled kid in his youth group wouldn’t be able to go to camp if he didn’t have someone along to help him, and Max dropped everything and volunteered so that kid wouldn’t miss out on camp. He didn’t let me tell anyone about that while he was alive – that was typical Max.”
After his death, Max’s high school classmates chose to honor his memory through his music. Throughout the 2010 football season, the marching band performed one of Max’s arrangements at every home game during which the drum line played his cadence while the rest of the band got down on one knee. “It made me cry every time,” Pam shared.
In addition, a memorial in Max’s name raised funds to purchase a marimba, a large percussion instrument, for his former high school. For years, the nine high schools in his school district have passed one marimba back and forth. Now his alma mater has its own instrument for performances.
A Gift that Lives on
When Max lost his life, his parents had to make the agonizing decision whether or not to donate his eyes, organs and tissues. Although they had never previously discussed donation with their son, his parents chose to donate his corneas to help others regain their sight. It was only after the decision was made did his parents learn that Max had indeed signed his driver’s license to be a donor.
For Pam, knowing Max continues to help others through donation has been a light during the grieving process. “Through discussion boards for parents who’ve lost children, I’ve seen so many parents who regret not making the choice to donate. But at the time, you think of your child as a person who still needs things like eyes and organs. I felt if we were going to lose him anyway, I wanted something good to come out of it.”
Because of Max’s gift, two individuals – one in Missouri and one in California – underwent corneal transplants to restore their vision. Like the hundreds of people he touched in his 18 years, these gentlemen’s lives are better because of Max.
Remarked Pam, “I pray that the people who received the gift of his eyes will be blessed by knowing that Max saw life through those eyes, and more importantly, we saw that deep, sweet soul that belonged to Max through them.”
Jake was known for his talent and his compassion.
Throughout his short life, Jake of Chatham, Ill. was known for his sense of humor and his unwavering loyalty to his friends. According to his mother, Barbara, Jake was always the first person to jump in whenever anyone needed help.
After a car accident claimed the life of her 18-year-old son, Barbara was asked if she would consent to donating Jake’s corneas and skin to help others. In the midst of a devastating tragedy, Jake’s parents made a compassionate decision from their hearts, just as Jake would have, and agreed to donate.
“I thought something good should come from a tragedy,” she said. “We had never talked about organ donation – I mean, you never expect your 18 year old to die – but I knew donation is something he would want.”
Jake had just graduated Williamsville High School with honors before his accident. During his high school career, he was an Illinois State Scholar and a member of the National Honor Society. In addition, Jake, a talented bass player, also incorporated his love of the arts into his school activities. He was king of his madrigals group and performed in school musicals, including his favorite role as of Horrors. An active member in the school’s vocal music department, Jake even sang for President Obama in 2009 as part of his school’s vocal jazz choir.
However, Jake’s greatest love was film. Remarked Barbara, “He loved movies and knew more about movie trivia than anyone I’ve ever met.” In fact, Jake had a full academic scholarship to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale to study filmmaking in order to prepare for a career as a director.
While Jake’s dreams were cut short, his kindness for others continues to live on – both through the lives of the hundreds of people he touched in his 18 years and through the eyes of a cornea recipient in California who can now see thanks to Jake’s family’s generous gift.
Elizabeth was able to return to playing
the piano after a cornea transplant restored her sight.
As a gifted piano player, Elizabeth often entertained seniors at a senior housing facility in Neosho, Mo. But as her eyesight began to fail, she faced difficulties playing all the requests. “I would play by ear many of the songs the residents wanted me to play, but if I picked up a music book or hymnal, the notes were too blurry to see.”
According to her eye surgeon, Elizabeth had simply outlived her corneas. For this active 75-year-old, the diagnosis was upsetting. In addition to affecting her piano playing, Elizabeth’s vision loss forced her to give up driving and her artwork as well as inhibited her ability to type and read.
Elizabeth finally underwent a corneal transplant on her left eye in summer 2010, which required donated corneal tissue. Although the cornea detached the day after her initial surgery and required an additional operation soon after, Elizabeth’s recovery was incredibly smooth. More important, it restored her lost vision.
Today, according to Elizabeth, her eye sight is better than it was even when she was young. Her left eye is 20/30, and she can read most print without wearing reading glasses. “My cloudy vision had slowly shrunk my world as I aged, but now my vision is so clear that I can once again read music, draw, sew, write and drive!”
Elizabeth chose to write to her donor family though Saving Sight’s correspondence department to thank them for their generous gift. “I wrote because I was so grateful. I thought that was really great they donated their loved one’s cornea to help someone else. It was very caring of them to do that, and I appreciate it so much.”
Not only is Elizabeth pleased with her restored sight, but so are the seniors who once again are able to enjoy her musical talent.