Since 1991, Dr. Ukeme Umana of Marion Eye Center has made annual humanitarian trips to Nigeria, providing much-needed eye care, and performing sight-saving surgeries. Most recently, Dr. Umana traveled to Nigeria in October 2022. During this trip, he saw many patients who normally would not have access to eye care and was able to perform cataract surgeries and several corneal transplants.
“In 2013, I started offering corneal transplants in addition to other surgeries,” recounts Dr. Umana. “People come from all over the country because there is no eye bank in Nigeria.”
This 5-year-old patient had scarring on his cornea and received a transplant to restore his sight.
Since that time, there has been a steady need for his services. Patients range in age and travel far to receive the sought-after care that Dr. Umana and the other volunteer doctors provide. During this most recent trip, Dr. Umana was able to help restore sight to a 7-year-old who needed cataract surgery and saw a variety of cases that resulted from infection and limited access to vision care.
For years, Saving Sight has provided Dr. Umana with tissue for his mission work, and during this most recent mission trip was the sole source of tissue. Dr. Umana’s work to reach underserved areas of the world like Nigeria extends Saving Sight’s mission beyond our local service area.
During his trips abroad, Dr. Umana also focuses on training local physicians as there is a shortage of doctors specializing in corneal transplantation. While time is short and the need is great, every opportunity to teach others is valuable and precious.
Dr. Umana expects that he will return to Nigeria again in the spring of 2023.
In October, the Wichita community said farewell to a friend and visionary in eye care. Dr. Bruce Grene, the founder of Wichita-based Grene Vision Group, was also instrumental in establishing the Wichita Eye Foundation in 1986. With Dr. Grene’s support, the Eye Foundation would grow to eventually become the Kansas Eye Bank and Cornea Research Center, Inc., providing corneal tissue for transplant in Kansas and beyond. In 2021, the Wichita eye bank’s impact on local Kansas communities multiplied as it became a division of Saving Sight.
Dr. Bruce Grene was instrumental in establishing the Kansas Eye Bank.
Dr. Grene’s legacy can be seen in many facets of the practice of ophthalmology. His passion for ocular research and innovation led him to create Celluvisc, a worldwide product for treating surface eye disease and injury. Dr. Grene entrusted the royalties from the sale of Celluvisc to the Wichita Eye Foundation, helping to fund the Kansas Eye Bank’s growth and work in restoring sight.
In his creation of Grene Vision Group, Dr. Grene was ahead of his time in providing the best in patient care. He had the wisdom and foresight to create an integrated group of ophthalmology, optometry, and optical professionals working together to serve the community. Most importantly, Dr. Grene embodied a passion for serving patients.
“Bruce and I worked together for over two decades, and he was perhaps as charismatic and captivating of a person as I’d ever met,” said Dr. Dasa Gangadhar, ophthalmologist and original partner at Grene Vision Group. “The temperature in the room would go up when he walked in. He was loving, he was gentle, and he was a visionary.”
Dr. Grene is survived by his loving family and wife, Mary, who stood by his side during a difficult battle with Parkinson’s disease. He is also survived by countless patients who benefited from his work and many collaborators and coworkers who called him a friend. It’s in the same spirit of service that Saving Sight works to carry forth Dr. Grene’s vision of restoring sight.
To learn more about our history and the key individuals like Dr. Grene, who have worked to make restored vision a reality for others, visit www.saving-sight.org/about.
Downing and Lahey Funeral Home, located in Wichita, Kansas, has been chosen as Saving Sight’s first Champion of Sight. The Champion of Sight Award recognizes our partners who exhibit extraordinary dedication in advocating and assisting in making eye donation possible. Together, with our Champions, we truly change lives by saving sight! Champions of Sight are nominated by and voted for by our team here at Saving Sight.
Our partners at Downing and Lahey Funeral Home work to help support the donation wishes of decedents and their families.
“We chose Downing and Lahey for their open communication. When I called to introduce myself, they let me know some areas of opportunity and how we could make them better. I followed up as promised by emailing their funeral home directors our commitment,” says Hospital Development Manager Kelly Falwell. We are lucky to have such great partners at Saving Sight that play a part in facilitating the eye donation process and advocating for donation, donor families and recipients in our service area. Downing and Lahey has been a great partner to Saving Sight by allowing our recovery technicians to perform recoveries in the funeral home from time to time.
Michael Morris, Funeral Director with Downing and Lahey says, “We understand the importance of donation and giving somebody the opportunity to see from somebody that’s passed away. That’s a great thing to be able to share with someone.” By working in tandem with funeral homes, we are able to honor the donor and their families’ wishes in being a donor.
Dan Mefford has served as a Chaplain for Mosaic Life Care Medical Center in St. Joseph, Missouri for 30 years. “Part of my role here, as all of ours are, is to respond to all end-of-life care crises,” says Chaplain Dan. “We are a part of what they’re going through and are there for the families as well.”
At Mosaic Life Care, the chaplains also serve as the designated healthcare directive educators. When working with families about the healthcare directive, often questions about organ, eye and tissue donation and the individual’s wishes are brought up along with questions about what is available to them.
As the lead chaplain for Mosaic Life Care’s ER and ICU, Chaplain Dan is involved with both Midwest Transplant Network and Saving Sight in the donation process. “Primarily, I work with Midwest Transplant Network and then they connect us to Saving Sight for eye donation,” says Chaplain Dan.
“Our connection is really one of partnership. We have open lines of communications where we can talk to each other. We try to be the liaison to help Saving Sight and Midwest Transplant Network through the process. We are a link between them and the family during this time. Sometimes Saving Sight might reach out to us to ask how the family is doing in their time of grief before they call the family to talk about donation. If the family asks me who Saving Sight is about a missed call, I can let them know to talk with them and that Saving Sight can help you with the donation journey.”
He adds that he values his partnership with Saving Sight and Midwest Transplant Network for a couple of reasons: “One, we couldn’t do it without them. The donation process is way beyond what we are capable of by ourselves,” he says. “Their partners are trained to have these conversations as designated requestors. Two, I also value that we are partners. They look at us as partners in this journey and ask how do we make this happen so everyone comes out ahead. Never have I felt like a pipeline in the journey either. They see us as an integral part of what they are going through and that gives me a good feeling working together.”
“Chaplain Dan is such an incredible advocate for donation,” says Darcey Ross, Hospital Development Manager at Saving Sight. “Not only for the individuals who have made the decision to donate, but he is such a source of comfort and support for the grieving family members as well.”
Chaplain Dan stresses the importance of talks about organ, eye and tissue donation before the end-of-life-care journey as well. “I think it’s very, very important. Obviously, we can’t approach anybody about donation as chaplains because we aren’t’ designated requestors – that is Midwest Transplant Network and Saving Sight’s role. But a lot of times people will ask me what I know and think about donation. I think it’s even more important before end-of-life care. It’s essential to talk to the family and make your decisions known ahead of time.”
He adds that being educated on donation and having your wishes known is vital in giving people the chance to live or see again when someone else dies.
“I’ve had friends who have received organs or tissues and are living their life now because of it. I recall one family very early in my career here. Their loved one died, and they came to me and said he was a Lion and wanted to donate. They asked, ‘how do we make that happen?’ This impressed upon me during that conversation that donation isn’t a small thing; it means a lot,” says Chaplain Dan.
“I’ve seen the lives that are changed through donation. And in the people who have donated their loved one’s tissues, their sense of helping someone else because their loved one is making a difference. It sends shivers down your spine to see how much it means to the family in their grief to donate – it’s a healing experience for those who are grieving.”
“The donation process changes a life – with eye donation, up until that point the recipient could literally be seeing darkness. For the donor family it gives them a sense that their family member is continuing to help others through the processes of life,” says Chaplain Dan.
For those families in the grief process after donation, Chaplain Dan offers comfort and support. “If the family is still here once a donation decision is made, we can reinforce that they’ve helped someone else. I see folks out in the community when it’s over and they’ll want to talk about that. It’s an affirmation for them of the gift they gave to someone else. It lets them know that there are people out there who truly are grateful for the gift they have received.”
Coroners and medical examiners work in difficult and often emotionally taxing situations. From doing investigative work at death scenes, conducting autopsies, and notifying the next-of-kin about a death, the job is often demanding and not fully understood by the communities these individuals serve.
Taney County Coroner, Tony Mullen, believes that donation is one way he can bring hope to others during a time of grief.
In southwest Missouri, one county coroner has found a way to serve his community in a way that brings hope of restored sight and life to others in the darkest times of loss. Taney County Coroner, Tony Mullen, works with local eye tissue bank, Saving Sight, to offer the opportunity of eye donation. For many families, honoring their loved one’s wish to give the gift of sight through donation brings a sense of peace and hope during the hardest time of their lives.
“When you can physically see the results of donation, it’s huge,” said Mullen. “As a family member, I would feel honored if my loved one could be a donor.”
As the county coroner, Mullen is in the unique position to work with agencies like Saving Sight when a death occurs to offer donation as an option in many cases. Mullen is also committed to educating others in his local community about donation and providing resources to help others understand the process. He believes it’s crucial for an individual to make their wishes about donation known to their family.
“For many people, the only exposure they have to donation is at the DMV when they sign up,” said Mullen. “In the position that I’m in, I have the opportunity to educate others.”
Each day, Saving Sight provides the gift of sight to nine individuals through the gift of cornea donation and transplantation. Additionally, 110,000 individuals in the U.S. are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. You can make a difference in the lives of others by joining the eye, organ, and tissue donor registry at registerme.org and sharing your decision with your family.
The Missouri Lions have given their volunteer, financial, and board support to our programs since 1960. Because of their support, Saving Sight is able to change more lives by saving sight each and every day. The Saving Sight Board of Directors is comprised of several key Lion members. Their leadership and expertise has helped the eye bank grow and evolve throughout the last 60 years and continues to move us forward into the future.
Read why Pat Martchink, Board President, and Larry Boettcher, Board Vice-President, find serving on Saving Sight’s Board to be impactful.
How long have you served on the Saving Sight Board and in what roles? I am in my fifth year on the Board. One year as a member, one year as Secretary, and now in my third year as President.
Why is it impactful for you to serve on the Saving Sight Board? I have worked professionally in nonprofits for more than 35 years and I believe it is a noble cause. My father was blind for a part of his life so I understand the importance of Saving Sight’s mission. I believe in the idea of “service” and being a part of Saving Sight helps me to fulfill that idea.
How does the Board function to support Saving Sight’s mission to change lives by saving sight? The Board helps to provide the “big picture” for the agency and then supports management to move the agency in that direction.
How have things evolved since you first became connected with Saving Sight? I believe the Board has grown stronger in its support of the Saving Sight leadership. The Board wants Saving Sight to be progressive due to the competition of other eye banks and the for-profit entities businesses that have similar interests.
Is there anything else about your experience as a board member or about Saving Sight you’d like to mention? I am thoroughly impressed by the work ethics of the entire Saving Sight Staff. They work hard and are truly dedicated to the mission of the organization.
Pat Martchink, Board President
Lions District 26 M-2
How long have you served on the Saving Sight Board and in what roles? This is the beginning of my third year of my first term as a Board member elected to serve Saving Sight from my Lions District 26-M4. Prior to this term I was appointed by the Council of Governors for Missouri Multiple District 26 to serve as a Board member in my Lions capacity as the Vice-Council Chair for one year, and as Council Chair for the second year. I have served as the Board Vice-President for the past two years and I was elected by the board for the current year starting July 1, 2020. This is the beginning of my fourth year on the Executive Committee which meets once a month. Last year, and again this year, I have been appointed to serve on the Finance Committee which meets quarterly or as needed ahead of the Board Meetings.
Why is it impactful for you to serve on the Saving Sight Board? I believe my prior leadership positions that I have held in the Lions Organization along with my formal education, management training and seminars through Lions International, and my 21 year career in management, I bring all of that knowledge and skill set to this Board. One of the things I am known for on the Board is knowing our By-Laws and making sure our decisions follow those set guidelines. I always have my copy of our Board Handbook ready for review at any time, whether it is during a committee meeting or during the Board meetings.
How does the Board function to support Saving Sight’s mission to change lives by saving sight? First, the Board as a Governance Policy that has the guidelines for the Board and for the CEO for the overall operation of the organization. This allows the day to day operation of the organization to go on without constant Board involvement. Second, the Board is responsible for actively participating in long-range planning for the organization along with determining the programs and services provided. As a Board we have to be progressive and always looking to the future for the overall success of the organization. An example is Vital Tears, in 2016 the Board approved the initial investment into creating that joint venture. They did this because they recognized with the Leadership at Saving Sight that there is a growing need for a solution for patients with chronic dry eye that can’t get relief from what was currently available. That part of our business is thriving and growing at an increasing pace. We have to continue to look for the next possibility, do our due diligence with our collaboration with Saving Sight leadership to continue the growth and sustainability of our organization.
How have things evolved since you first became connected with Saving Sight? We have tried to recruit Lions and community members that bring a different perspective to the organization, and a true willingness to serve. We have brought the Board and Saving Sight leadership closer together in our working relationship by taking the effort to fellowship with one another after our meetings and spend time getting to truly know each other. We have focused on Board training including a new On-Boarding program that I developed for our newest board members each year. We have found that by covering all of the information ahead of their first Board meeting we have been able to use our time together in the Board meeting to focus on what needs to be done, rather than answering questions over and over each year.
Historically, how have the Missouri Lions supported Saving Sight? Individual Lions and Individual Lions Clubs have donated money over the years to support the mission. When Saving Sight handled recycled eye-glasses the Lions of Missouri collected the glasses in their locations and brought them to Saving Sight for distribution in third world countries. When Saving Sight controlled the KidSight program the Lions of Missouri volunteered their time and money to support that program. The proceeds from the Missouri Lions All-Star Football game each year was donated to Saving Sight. Over the years the Districts in Missouri and the Multiple District raised money for matching grants through Lions Clubs International Foundation to purchase equipment for the labs.
Is there anything else about your experience as a board member or about Saving Sight you’d like to mention? I can honestly say that I enjoy serving on this board. This isn’t a mundane meeting that you just dread going to, because what we do does make a difference and has a profound impact on our communities. Not only for our employees, but for all of those patients that have restored eye sight or relief from their dry eye. I believe in what we do so much I personally support the organization through monthly giving.