New OCT Machine Continues to Bring Innovation to Saving Sight

New OCT Machine Continues to Bring Innovation to Saving Sight

New technology allows Saving Sight to stay on the cutting edge as an innovative eye bank. Saving Sight recently upgraded our lab equipment to a new optical coherence tomography (OCT) microscope. It also allows us to be better stewards of the gift of sight while delivering the highest quality to our partner surgeons.

“The OCT is a big microscope that measures the thickness of the cornea, and we use it to measure our corneas before we start processing for our DSAEK or ALK processing. We also take images after processing so the surgeon can see what the processed tissue actually looks like. It gives us more insight on the quality of the tissue and if it will be suitable for the surgery type we are offering it for. We can be proactive in what we offer to the surgeons,” says Debora Van Klinken-Muntz, Lead Laboratory Technician.

“Using it as an eye bank saves us a lot of time. It also lets us be good stewards of the tissue we receive. I don’t know how we could do eye banking without an OCT machine.”

Changing Lives Through Sight Restoration in Pakistan

Changing Lives Through Sight Restoration in Pakistan

In 2018, Saving Sight began working with Dr. Fawad Zafar. Dr. Zafar is a urologist who lives in Iowa and also coordinates the acquisition of corneal tissue for transplant in Pakistan.

“In April 2017, one of my class fellows who was a doctor, but left medical profession and went into foreign service, was ambassador of Pakistan at Sri Lanka. He was telling me how corneas were being sent from Sri Lanka to Pakistan and other countries. I thought that was a great project and I contacted them,” says Dr. Zafar.

At the time Dr. Zafar didn’t know that U.S. eye banks sent tissue internationally. He did a Google search for ‘cornea tissue for overseas surgery from the U.S.’ and the first eye bank that popped up was the Lions Eye Bank in Tampa. He called their eye bank. “I explained to them how we were raising money, and we wanted to send corneas to our Mayo Hospital in Lahore, where I trained. My class fellow at the time was professor of ophthalmology over there and they had a waiting list of 500 patients.”

They received 10 tissues from the Lions Eye Bank in Tampa that month, and the project was underway. Saving Sight, the Lions Eye Bank of Indianapolis and others also began working with Dr. Zafar on this project.

“At first, we were only interested in the Mayo Hospital in Lahore but, when I started calling around, it turned out that there are no measures of cornea donations, and nobody is donating any corneas in Pakistan. The entire country is depending on Sri Lanka,” he says.

“I then went ahead and started calling hospital after hospital, and we now have 39 facilities that we support. There are 5 states in Pakistan, like we have 50 states in the U.S.” Dr. Zafar is now coordinating distributing corneas to hospitals in all 5 states throughout Pakistan.

“Saving Sight has been so supportive and so helpful that it is just unreal,” he says. “I wanted to share with you that to date we have sent 3,574 corneas to Pakistan.” Several of these tissues have been distributed by Saving Sight. So far in 2021, Saving Sight has sent 43 tissues to Pakistan.

“The project was started by my two sisters who are doctors, one is a cardiologist in Dallas, and one is a hospitalist in Indianapolis, and me,” shares Dr. Zafar. “I am also a lifetime member of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA). APPNA has about 6,000-7,000 members and I decided once we spread out, that we might be able to have more support if we contacted APPNA and brought this project under their umbrella, so that is what’s happened.”

Dr. Zafar and his sisters coordinate this process on a 100% voluntary basis. They raise funds among their family, friends, and colleagues to coordinate costs and shipments of the tissues with U.S. eye banks. The surgeons in Pakistan then perform the surgeries and post-operative care for free. Each of the hospitals are also government hospitals, meaning they do not charge the patients for their care.

Dr. Zafar personally calls each patient to make sure they were well-taken care of and to make sure no costs were incurred as well. Nearly all patients are underserved and are unable to pay for their healthcare needs.

The work of Dr. Zafar, the teams in Pakistan, and the involvement of U.S eye banks like Saving Sight, literally saves sight and changes the lives of these recipients. Without this work, they would not have access to care and would lead a life of corneal blindness.

“It would not have happened without Saving Sight’s help and without the other eye banks. You have made a huge impact on people’s lives,” says Dr. Zafar.

Dr. Zafar provided two videos of grateful corneal recipients in Pakistan.

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Vision Restored Thanks to Corneal Transplantation

This young man received a sight-restoring cornea transplant at the Quaid-E-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur Pakistan thanks to the selfless gift of sight from a Saving Sight eye donor. Thank you to Dr. Fawad Zafar, surgeons in Pakistan, and the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America for making this possible.

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The Gift of Sight Changes Lives in Pakistan

This young woman received a sight-restoring cornea transplant at the Quaid-E-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur Pakistan thanks to the selfless gift of sight from a Saving Sight eye donor. Thank you to Dr. Fawad Zafar, surgeons in Pakistan, and the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America for making this possible.

Melanie’s Legacy As An Eye Donor

Melanie’s Legacy As An Eye Donor

“My mom was extremely devoted to her family, especially her mother, two kids and five grandchildren. She had just gotten her first granddaughter after four boys and was so proud. She was extremely giving, to the point she’d go without so others had. She was an AMAZING cook, no one could come close to her meals, and she took great pride in that.

She loved shopping, she spent each Saturday wandering the aisles of Walmart. She was also an avid church goer, she attended every Sunday with her family. She had liked gardening in earlier years, and recently was obsessed with watching Wheel of Fortune. She knew the answers even before the contestants did,” shares Hannah.

Hannah says she and her mother had never talked about donation prior to her mother’s passing. “I was very familiar because I work in healthcare, but other than knowing we were each listed on our respective drivers licenses, we had never had a discussion about it.”

A Legacy Lives On

“Her legacy lives on especially in her grandchildren, who are currently learning to do acts of kindness so that her huge heart may live on. Regarding donation, I know her legacy is living in the people she has given new life, vision, and mobility too. Also the people who will benefit from the research she contributed too,” says Hannah.

“I was inspired to share our story, because I want to help others who are in a similar pain, understand that good does come eventually. I would just like people to know how missed she is, but how grateful we are that she was able to give to others.”

Here are two photos Hannah provided of her mother, Melanie; the second is a picture of her with Hannah’s son, her second oldest grandchild. It just shows perfectly what a wonderful Mimi she was.

Thanks to Corneal Transplantation, Fabric Artist Creates Beautiful Quilts Again

Thanks to Corneal Transplantation, Fabric Artist Creates Beautiful Quilts Again

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.”

 

Stephanie’s Journey with Keratoconus

Stephanie’s Journey with Keratoconus

“I was diagnosed with keratoconus, which basically deteriorates your cornea,” says Stephanie. “I have the disease in both eyes, but my right eye ended up progressing a lot faster than my left and made it necessary that I have a cornea transplant.” She adds that though the thought of having her first cornea transplant was scary, it ended up being a pleasant experience.

“I got lucky and had one of the most compassionate surgeons from my area, Dr. Shachar Tauber. When I went in for my cornea consultation, I cried as I am young – I’m only 37. Going into it, it was very scary. I went in the day of my surgery feeling extremely nervous. After a few hours, everything went well, the old cornea was removed, and the new cornea put in. I left with a beautiful blue eye with 16 stitches. My son was amazed because I naturally have brown eyes and the next day, when taking the bandage off, I had a shiny new blue eye,” she says, adding her eye eventually turned back to her natural brown color.  

“During my follow-up appointment, I opted to ask about my donor.” Stephanie learned her donor was a 59-year-old female. “I opted to write the family a thank you letter, but never received anything in return and that is ok because I just wanted them to know how grateful I was to them for the gift of sight.” She adds that prior to her transplant she hadn’t considered how much receiving a cornea transplant affects you mentally, especially considering how it impacts your vision. 

“Many people only think about the main organs like hearts, lungs, kidneys, livers, but never really your eyes. You see, every day that I look out of my eye and I can see and I can’t help but think of my donor and her family. Because she and her family opted to be a donor, I now can see. I can see to craft, I can see to drive, I can see to work, and most importantly I can see to watch my son grow into a young man.” 

“I don’t think people truly understand the importance of being an organ donor. It can help save lives, but it can also be just as important to someone else who needs an organ as small as a cornea…because of someone else I am able to see, and I will forever be grateful.” 

Restored Sight Takes Carol to New Heights

Restored Sight Takes Carol to New Heights

​“One of my favorite things to do is swing on the 10-foot-tall swing in my backyard,” says Carol.  “I go on it every day and as I’m swinging, I can see everything going on and all the changes in the seasons. Every time I do it, I see something new in my yard and my neighborhood – it’s even better now after my surgeries. It’s my relaxation and my mediation.”

After years of battling the progressive eye disease Fuchs Dystrophy, Carol’s sight was restored through corneal transplantation.

Carol’s Experience with Corneal Transplantation

“I inherited Fuchs Dystrophy from my father, who endured two unsuccessful corneal surgeries in the years before tissue transplants were available. Back when my dad had it, this new technology had not yet been developed. He endured a much more invasive surgery and it didn’t work. The whole thing was terrible for him and I was nervous to get it done. I dealt with that condition for many, many years and tried to treat it with eye drops for 15 years,” she says.

Eventually, Carol realized she needed to have surgery and scheduled an appointment during the middle of the pandemic. She was scared because of her father’s experience but was uncomfortable because her vision was so impaired, and her corneas had become scratchy and dry. “One of my corneas had even blistered,” she adds. Her friend, Dr. Cindy Penzler, who is a respected ophthalmologist in Topeka, recommended she reach out to Dr. Timothy Cavanaugh with Cavanaugh Eye Center in Overland Park, KS for a consultation.

“As soon as I met with Dr. Cavanaugh and went through the extensive eye exam I knew I was in good hands. I was impressed by how educated he is, his passion for it, and his fantastic staff. He just made me feel that confident,” says Carol. “Dr. Cavanaugh’s process is so unique because, not only is he experienced and efficient with DSAEK corneal transplantation, but he was the only surgeon I could find to do simultaneous cataract and corneal procedures. That made it 2 surgeries instead of 4, since I had cataracts on both eyes and needed both corneas replaced. It’s amazing how complicated it is but how well he does it.”

One thing Carol found interesting during her initial exam was viewing the image of a healthy cornea compared to her cornea. Where you can see a cornea full of cells in the healthy cornea, the image of her cornea was just black. Dr. Cavanaugh came in and explained to Carol that was because you could literally see just a few cells left on her cornea.

After her surgery, Dr. Cavanaugh told Carol her donor was a “super donor” explaining that at birth the cornea has 3,000 cells and at death it’s usually around 2,000. Her donor’s cornea had 2,900 cells – and Carol’s diseased cornea had virtual none.

“You can imagine because of that it was a miracle for me. Within 2 to 3 days of the surgery I was seeing better than I ever had and I was still healing. It was life-changing! I was like a kid who just woke up from a black and white dream. Brighter, clearer and truer. And you have to remember I had the cataract surgery as well. When I went back to the next appointment one week later, they said I healed faster than most and I thank my super donor for that.”

After her first surgery in June, Carol had her second cornea transplant in August. “I may still need a prescription at some point but right now I can read and drive without glasses and hadn’t been able to in 30 years – that’s a win for me.”

For Carol, the process has been easy, and her surgeon did everything they could to make her comfortable during the procedure. “After meeting Dr. Cavanaugh, my attitude was I couldn’t wait to get this done. It was all outpatient and I had faith in Dr. Cavanaugh. It was maybe 2 hours at most. Everyone was friendly and upbeat. Nothing about it provided anxiety, pain or nervousness for me. I tend to be someone who can relax myself well though. The only thing that was a little difficult was keeping my head flat/back for 48 hours after to hold cornea transplant in place.”

Life After Restored Vision

Today, Carol is retired after working a majority of her life for an internet publishing company where she sold online and print advertisements for technology companies. Her first grandchild was born in early October. “I got to hold him and look at his face through clear eyes and see it so clearly and feel it so deeply, much more so than I would have before the surgery,” she says.

Reading for Carol is also number one and has been so enhanced by her cornea transplants. “The best thing for me is for the first time in probably 30 years I don’t have to have glasses to read. I read all the time. And I volunteer for the audio reader programmer and it provides a 24/7/365 radio service for the blind and reading impaired. This lets me continue that so much easier. I read and record live shows and newspaper stories for an hour every day. Every single thing in my life is enhanced by good eyesight,” Carol adds.

Connecting through Correspondence

Following her transplants, Carol received a letter in the mail about Saving Sight’s Correspondence Program. “I was so happy to get the letter from Saving Sight about correspondence because I was thinking to myself, how do I thank the person who did this for me – what it has meant to me to be able to see so much better? This allowed me to say thank you to the donor family. I wouldn’t have had access to that information if I wouldn’t have received that letter. I realized it went beyond Dr. Cavanaugh. It began with the donor and it was so nice to be able to close that loop for me and let them know how much I appreciated their loved one being open to donation, to tell them this is what happened. It saved my sight.”

“And I’m just very deeply appreciative of the work that Saving Sight does as well. I can never thank Dr. Cavanaugh or the donor enough for this second lease I have on life. This was a 100 percent uplifting experience for me during the worst pandemic of our lifetime.”

Learning About Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation

“I’m listed as an organ donor and had never thought about eye donation before this. It wasn’t until my surgeries that I thought about this and I just found it so amazing. I have a whole lot of respect for doctors, and researchers and those in the industry who are advancing this field,” says Carol.

“It’s so needed because there are so many common eye diseases that could use corneal tissue to help the patient. It’s a huge contribution people can make through donation – if you contribute nothing more than cornea tissue you have made a significant difference in the lives of others.”

You can join the national registry or learn more about organ eye and tissue donation at registerme.org.