Casey’s Story – Twenty-One-Year-Old College Student Regains Sight

Casey’s Story – Twenty-One-Year-Old College Student Regains Sight

“Since I had my cornea transplant my experience has been filled with joy because, for the first time, I do not feel like there’s anything that can hold me back. I feel like I can literally do anything without worrying about my sight,” says Casey.

Casey is currently a dual major student and is studying Criminal Justice and Psychology with credentials in International Conflict and Child/Adolescence Development.

When Casey was fifteen years old he developed a cataract on his left eye. Without cataract surgery, doctors said he would go blind in that eye. “However doctors did not know whether the surgery would restore my sight,” said Casey. “I had the surgery and waited a few months to see if my sight would be restored. The surgery was successful in removing the cataract and it didn’t leave me blind, but it made my vision worse. However I never told anyone because I didn’t want to feel like a burden.”

A few years later, Casey told his family and eye doctors that his vision had worsened in his left eye. His doctors told him that a cornea transplant was needed to restore his vision. Casey, now twenty-one years old, says his experience with his cornea surgery was a little frightening. “My doctors had given me so much hope, however I was fearful the surgery would not be successful – I was scared to believe.”

Casey’s cornea transplant was a success and his vision is continuing to improve during his healing process. “One of my favorite things to do is play video games and before my transplant I had to literally sit right in front of the television in order to see the game more clearly, but now I do not have to be so close,” says Casey. He can now see things further away as well. He is able to see road signs more clearly and looks forward to his doctors clearing him to drive. Prior to his transplant, he also had to have large font and use a magnifying glass on his phone. Now he enjoys putting his phone in standard mode to view his text messages.

“I have learned a lot during this long process. I learned that there are hundreds of people like me out there who need a second chance at living. I know as a recipient I have the power to spread my message to people. Organizations like Saving Sight are helping to restore sight to those like me who need it.” He adds that when it comes to donating, it’s about saving a life; it’s about restoring someone’s way of living and giving them hope for a better future.

Casey chose to write a letter thanking his donor family as well. “After my cornea transplant I was approached about writing a letter to my donor family and I just loved the idea. Because of their family’s sacrifice, I am now able to see clearly and I just wanted to tell them thank you for what they have done for me.”

“I’m just grateful to my doctors who were amazing and who gave me hope and inspired me and to the donor family who during their tragedy and loss chose to donate. And I’m also very thankful to my family who are awesome people, drove me when I couldn’t drive, and took off work to come to my appointments.”

Casey has designated his decision to join the donor registry at his local DMV. “I love to help people and so on my license I chose to be a donor because I believe if someone is out there who needs it then why not donate?” You can join Casey by registering to be an organ, eye and tissue donor at your local DMV or at registerme.org.

Live Like Barb—Donor’s Legacy Lives On

Live Like Barb—Donor’s Legacy Lives On

One of Barb’s Favorite Songs Includes the Words:
“If I can help somebody as I pass along, If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he is travelling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.”

“My mom was ALWAYS happy! She was everyone’s best friend and she never met a stranger,” says Tamika of her mom, Barb. “She had the most beautiful smile and the most distinctive laugh ever!”

Tamika adds that Barb was an expert shopper and bargain-hunter who loved finding deals on clothes and shoes, but especially loved purchasing home decor. “She took pride in her decorating skills, and loved searching magazines for the latest in interior design. She loved cooking and enjoyed entertaining friends at her home, and was also an avid reader. She would read a book a day! Above all else, she loved spending time with her family – especially her grandchildren. She was definitely their biggest fan.”

When Barb passed away, she was able to give the gift of sight to others as an eye donor. “My mom made the choice to become an organ donor through the DMV and encouraged me to do the same,” says Tamika. “That’s the type of person she was…always a giver. She impacted so many people – her funeral services were attended by over 400 people!”

Tamika chose to write to her mother’s recipient through Saving Sight’s Correspondence Program because she felt it was important to make that connection with her recipient. “I wanted them to know more about their donor, and I wanted to learn more about them as well. It’s mind-blowing to know that there’s a part of her that lives on in someone else!”

“I’d like to believe that someone’s life has been enhanced because of my mom’s donation. I hope that they know that by receiving any part of her, they are connected to a brilliant, strong, loving, faith-filled person.”

#LiveLikeBarb

“#LiveLikeBarb was something that I came up with right after my mom passed away,” says Tamika. “So many people spoke about how they aspired to be like her or how they admired the type of person she was. That hashtag is a small reminder that we should all strive to live the way she did. Even while living with Congestive Heart Fail-ure, she never allowed her health to slow her down. She always had joy, was always quick to forgive, she never complained, and she lived a life of gratitude. Who wouldn’t want to Live Like Barb? The buttons are just a tangible reminder of that – I usually keep several on hand at all times because I’m always running into a classmate of hers, a for-mer co-worker…even her favorite cashier at JCPenney asked for one!”

“In honor of my mom’s birthday, I got Live Like Barb tattooed on my shoulder…I’m sure she was somewhere rolling her eyes about that!”
“I made a promise that my mom would be famous – that her name and legacy would live forever. I don’t ever want her story to be solely about me and my journey without her…my goal is to have her life story impact others in a way that helps them to live their lives in a more meaningful way.”

Joining the Donor Registry
For those considering joining the organ, eye and tissue donor registry, Tamika says: “The most important thing that we can do while we’re here on earth is to be a blessing to someone. That’s how you leave a legacy, by ensuring that someone else has a second chance at life through the generosity of organ donation. It’s a chance to be a hero.” You can join the donor registry at your local DMV or at www.registerme.org.

November is Eye Donation Month

November is Eye Donation Month

November is Eye Donation Month! Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) uses the month as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of registering to be a donor, about cornea donation and transplantation, and to acknowledge the work of their partner eye banks. As a member eye bank, Saving Sight will be taking part in celebrating Eye Donation Month and the theme of The Power of You. The campaign demonstrates the “power” that individuals have in building hope, restoring sight and changing lives, including healthcare professionals and partners, researchers, eye bank staff, corneal surgeons, and recipients and donor families.

We will be sharing several cornea recipient and donor family stories in November. Be sure to follow Saving Sight on Facebook and on our website during November for #EyeDonationMonth. Thank you for helping us change lives by saving sight!

 

 

Casey’s Story – Twenty-One-Year-Old College Student Regains Sight

“Since I had my cornea transplant my experience has been filled with joy because, for the first time, I do not feel like there’s anything that can hold me back. I feel like I can literally do anything without worrying about my sight,” says Casey. Casey is currently a...

Live Like Barb—Donor’s Legacy Lives On

“My mom was ALWAYS happy! She was everyone’s best friend and she never met a stranger,” says Tamika of her mom, Barb. “She had the most beautiful smile and the most distinctive laugh ever!” Tamika adds that Barb was an expert shopper and bargain-hunter who loved...

November is Eye Donation Month

November is Eye Donation Month! Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) uses the month as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of registering to be a donor, about cornea donation and transplantation, and to acknowledge the work of their partner eye...

Donor Family Finds Comfort through Volunteerism to Honor the Legacy of their Son

Donor Family Finds Comfort through Volunteerism to Honor the Legacy of their Son

Because of donation, Vivian and Larry know that John’s legacy lives on in 37 other people. For Larry and Vivian, volunteering in support of the Donate Life message has brought great healing after their son John gave the gift of life as an eye and tissue donor.

John was a loving and protective big brother to his sister, Eleanor. Just 17 months apart, the siblings shared many friends and interests. They both loved sports and music. “John played the baritone saxophone on an award-winning jazz band in junior high and high school, earning a personal award at a jazz festival in high school,” said Vivian. He was also very involved in scouting, from Tiger Cubs to Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. John also loved politics and was involved in many political organizations, especially when he went to college. “Just 6 weeks before John passed away, he started school to become a massage therapist, which had long been a dream of his,” said Vivian.

John died of an aortic dissecting aneurysm on October 11, 2004, just under four weeks before his 23rdbirthday. “When the ER doctor came in to ‘that’ room to tell us the news that they were unable to revive John, our world collapsed around us,” said Vivian. “At some point, we thought of donation and told the nurse that we wanted John to be a donor. There was no thought, at this point, about what could or could not be donated. We simply wanted him to be a donor.”

Gift of Hope in Illinois called Larry and Vivian at the hospital to explain the donation process. “After this day, the next correspondence we received was from the Lion’s Eye Bank, now Saving Sight. We were told John’s corneas went to two people in Missouri who could now see this world through our son’s beautiful eyes,” said Vivian. “Thus began the feelings of comfort and healing that donation gives to the donor family. Over the next few years, we received the news that John’s other bones and tissues were given to 35 other recipients.”

Because of donation, Vivian and Larry know that John’s legacy lives on in 37 other people. “A man and a woman in Missouri gained sight because of his corneas. The fact that two people see this world through John’s eyes is remarkable,” said Vivian. “A Staff Sergeant in the Army has a rebuilt knee from our son. Beyond those, there are 34 people from New York to California and Florida to Wyoming, who carry a part of our son’s precious gift.”

Larry and Vivian have been very involved as Donate Life volunteers on both the national and local level. Volunteering with Donate Life

As a donor family, Larry and Vivian feel there is no way to overstate how meaningful John’s donation has been to their ability to cope with, and survive, in a world without him. “Add to this, the benefits of being advocates for donation through Saving Sight, IL Secretary of State Jesse White’s office, Gift of Hope and Eversight, and you have our recipe for survival,” said Larry. One of the questions Vivian asked the day he died was ‘How will people know John?’ “This is accomplished by being donor advocates for the above organizations and others. We have been blessed to share John throughout the state of Illinois and to places as far away as Savannah, GA, Denver, CO, Salt Lake City, UT and Pasadena, CA. The measures of comfort and healing we have been blessed with are incredible. It is our saving grace,” said Larry.

Larry and Vivian have been very involved as Donate Life volunteers on the national and local level. Here are a few of their volunteer experiences:

  • Presentations and booths (too numerous) for groups from small health care seminars, nursing students, hospital staff, and professional organizations associated with donation (funeral home directors, coroners, etc).
  • Savannah, GA – Presentation for the American Pyrotechnic Association’s National Conference, 2010
  • Denver, CO – Presentation to Allosource home office staff, 2007 and 2015
  • Denver, CO – Presentation to all 3 shifts at Statline, 2015
  • Salt Lake City, UT – Presentation to Allosource staff, 2007
  • Pasadena, CA – Donate Life Rose Parade Float, Vivian rode the float in 2013, and John is on a Floragraph in 2018
  • Pasadena, CA – We are both members of the DL Rose Parade Float committee, 2013 to present

“We have received such healing through the organizations that have nurtured us and allowed us to tell our story, through their employees who are always there for us, through the recipients and donor families that we have come to know and love around the country, and most importantly, for this important cause which also allows us to include both our daughter and granddaughter in our journey as we honor John.”

In October, Larry and Vivian were able to travel to California to decorate a floragraph that will be carried on the 2018 Donate Life Rose Parade Float with their daughter Eleanor and granddaughter Alina. “We left the majority of the floragraph decorating to Eleanor, who did a fantastic job,” said Vivian. They left part of the floragraph unfinished to bring home to Illinois to have friends and family help complete it at a special event.

This November, Larry and Vivian held a beautiful celebration at the United Community Bank in Sherman to finish decorating John’s floragraph. The intent of the event was not only to finish John’s floragraph, but to also promote donation said Larry. “We invited family to help with this, as well as longtime friends of ours, John’s and Eleanor’s. We, of course, had help from Saving Sight and the IL Secretary of State’s Office, both at the event and leading up to it.”

“On the day of the event, we were overwhelmed by the response,” said Larry. “We saw former teachers and classmates of John’s, including his former jazz band director. Family and friends visited from all over the state of Illinois and Iowa.”

The decision to participate in the Donate Life Float was an easy one for their family. “We are blessed that our business was in a position to sponsor John this year. We have been involved with the Donate Life Float for 6 years – first as honorees and the last 5 as volunteers and committee members,” said Larry.

“It is unbelievable that John’s floragraph will be placed on the Donate Life Float and will have the chance to been seen by hundreds of thousands on the parade, and millions on television,” said Vivian.

 

Look for the Donate Life Float during the 129th Rose Parade on January 1, 2018.

 

Donor Mother Shares Her Experience with Donation and Correspondence

Donor Mother Shares Her Experience with Donation and Correspondence

Over the years, Carol from Sunrise Beach, MO has generously volunteered several times to share her experience as the mother of a donor. She tells a powerful story about her son Mark who became a cornea donor in 2010. Her son’s heroic decision to donate impacted the lives of two cornea recipients as well as Carol and the rest of Mark’s family. Carol tells of the therapeutic effects of knowing her son has helped others, including how she has corresponded with the recipients. She encourages others to consider donation and correspondence because it changes lives for the better.

Carol most recently spoke at the June 2014 Saving Sight Board of Directors meeting and Lions L.E.A.D. event, so we thought it appropriate to re-share the web article from 2011 so she and Mark can continue to have a positive impact on others.

When someone loses a loved one, it’s difficult to find the good in such a heartbreaking situation. However, for many families, eye, organ, and tissue donation has given them a sense of hope. And when those families hear from their loved one’s recipients, it’s particularly rewarding.

In 2010, Carol lost her 30-year-old son, Mark. Unbeknownst to the family, Mark had made the pledge to become an eye donor through Missouri’s first-person consent registry – a choice that didn’t surprise Carol.

“Mark was absolutely the most loving person that we know in our family,” she said. “He cared very much about his family – about everybody. He didn’t know a stranger. Mark was never judgmental, gave everybody a fair chance, and always tried to help the underdog.”

As Carol and her family moved through the grieving process, they received a letter from Saving Sight informing them that Mark’s corneas had been provided to two recipients in California. Carol wrote the recipients, introducing them to her son, and soon received letters back from both individuals. One recipient in particular struck a chord with Carol, and the two began corresponding frequently.

“I can’t say enough about how his words have helped me,” said Carol. “This man just amazes me. Even in his last letter, he said, ‘Mark and I had our stitches removed and the good doctor says our vision continues to improve. We are a good fit. There was a moment or two I did feel Mark was there.’ He couldn’t have said anything better to me.”

The recipient/donor family correspondence has not only helped in the healing process for Mark’s direct family, but for his church family as well. Carol has read letters from Mark’s cornea recipient to fellow church members, helping them to find hope in desperate situations and encouraging them to follow Mark’s lead by pledging to become eye, organ, and tissue donors through Missouri’s donor registry.

For Carol, Saving Sight’s correspondence program has made a difference for her family, and therefore, she urges donor families and recipients alike to consider writing their own letters.

“I know Mark is living through this gentleman. I feel he has Mark in the palm of his hand like another grandpa, and it gives me such a comforting feeling. This man was so generous in his thoughts and words back to my family.”

To learn more about writing your donor family or your loved one’s recipient, please read our Correspondence page or contact Saving Sight at 800-753-2265.

If you are a cornea transplant recipient or donor family and would like to share your experience like Carol has, please send us a note through our Contact page.

To join the millions of Americans like Mark who 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.

Bonnie and Charlotte: Correspondence After Transplantation

Bonnie and Charlotte: Correspondence After Transplantation

Charlotte, right, received a cornea transplant with tissue donated by Cody,
son of Bonnie (left). After years of
correspondence, Charlotte and Bonnie decided to meet each other.

Correspondence after donation and transplantation can be a positive part of the healing process for many people. Saving Sight offers donor families and cornea transplant recipients the opportunity to write to each other in a safe, positive environment. Acting as an intermediary, Saving Sight accepts the letters and then passes them on to the appropriate parties, which helps preserve everyone’s anonymity. Recipients and donor families alike have said that correspondence had therapeutic effects.

When Bonnie’s son, Cody, died in Divernon, Illinois after a car accident, he was able to donate skin and corneas. “Cody always wanted to be an organ donor,” she said. One of his corneas was received by Charlotte from Clinton, Missouri, who needed the transplant to treat a corneal infection that threatened to destroy her entire eye. Quite soon after her transplant surgery, Charlotte initiated the correspondence process with the help of Paul, her son who lived with her and cared for the family farm. Paul said his mother was eager to correspond with her donor’s family because she understood loss, having recently lost two grandchildren. “Because of that unselfish loved one was a donor and gave me a gift, I still have my eye,” Paul remembered Charlotte saying. “So she wanted to contact the family and thank them.”

With Paul’s help, Charlotte sent a letter to Saving Sight which was then passed on to Scarlett, Cody’s wife. “Scarlett didn’t feel like she was ready to correspond, so I asked permission to correspond instead,” said Bonnie. And with that, Bonnie and Charlotte began the process of getting to know each other. “Charlotte was very understanding that someone died to give her this cornea,” Bonnie recalled. “She was a really sweet lady.”

When people correspond for more than a year and both parties consent to communicating without anonymity, Saving Sight will connect the donor family and recipient so they can pursue contact on their own. Bonnie and Charlotte wrote several letters in that first year and continued contact in the years that followed.

“We talked on the phone sometimes, at birthdays and at Christmas,” Bonnie said. Eventually, Bonnie offered to visit Charlotte at her home in Clinton. “My daughter Tara and I had discussed from the time I first started corresponding with Charlotte how we would love to meet her, although we knew it would be difficult on us. However, Tara was unable to come with me so I drove there on June 16, 2012, which was Cody and Scarlett’s wedding anniversary,” Bonnie said. “I stayed at Charlotte’s house for three or four hours and met Paul. We had a wonderful visit. It was nice to have a part of Cody with her, to know that he lived on. Cody had big blue beautiful eyes, and I just loved the fact that I got to meet her and look in her eyes.” Paul said the feeling was mutual: “It meant a lot to Mom to get to finally meet the person behind the voice on the phone, as Mom was unable to travel long trips.”

Charlotte, a cornea recipient, corresponded with Bonnie, the mother of a donor. 

Despite the happiness of meeting Charlotte face to face, Bonnie also found the experience to be emotionally trying. “I held it all together until I drove out of her driveway, and then I cried all the way home,” Bonnie said. “It was Father’s Day the next day and just meeting her – she was a wonderful lady. She was very appreciative of how Cody had died but was willing to give his cornea. She never took it for granted. That’s why she wrote the letter – she wanted to know about the person who donated and his family.”

Charlotte’s daughter made quilted table cloths, and she gave one to Bonnie as a keepsake from their visit. “I cherish that,” Bonnie said. “Charlotte had health issues, and I think she knew we wouldn’t see each other again.” In April of 2013, Charlotte passed away at the age of 91, and thanks to Paul’s care, she was able to remain on the farm until a few days before her death.

Paul described his mother as having “an abundance of love that she shared with her eight children and many outside her family” and that she “was proud of Bonnie’s friendship.” Bonnie, too, looks back fondly on the trip: “I felt so fortunate to have met Charlotte. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to meet someone who has your son’s cornea. But I can’t say enough how blessed I felt by it all.”

To learn more about the young man whose generous donation brought Bonnie and Charlotte together, read Cody’s story. To learn more about Saving Sight’s correspondence process, visit our cornea donation and transplantation page.