Local Coroner Connects Families to Gift of Sight in Moments of Darkness

Local Coroner Connects Families to Gift of Sight in Moments of Darkness

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

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.

Leadership Through the Years – Board of Directors

Leadership Through the Years – Board of Directors

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.

Larry Boettcher, Board Vice-President

Lions District 26 M-4

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! 

 

Eye Donation Month 2020

Celebrating the community present in giving the gift of sight to others during Eye Donation Month 2020.Eye Donation Month | November 2020 Join Saving Sight in celebrating the gift of sight and raising awareness about corneal donation and transplantation during Eye...

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 23rd birthday. “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.