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

Thomas’ Legacy Lives on Through the Gift of Sight and Research

Thomas’ Legacy Lives on Through the Gift of Sight and Research

“To know Tommy, he preferred Thomas, was to know someone who was helpful, respectful, loyal, and enjoyed spending time with his family, friends, and his dog. Thomas was happiest working with his hands and going hiking, camping, and riding his motorcycle,” says his mother Charlotte.

Thomas had made the decision to join the organ, eye and tissue donor registry. “I didn’t know until after the accident that he was an organ donor, but I wasn’t surprised,” says Charlotte. “Through his cornea donations, his legacy in helping others continues so that he could keep on giving to others.  He didn’t know a stranger; he was that kind. Because Tommy’s corneas were separately donated, he was able to be doubly generous.”

 

Thomas & his mother Charlotte

Thomas & his brother Colt in Colorado

Thomas 2018

“To know Tommy, he preferred Thomas, was to know someone who was helpful, respectful, loyal, and enjoyed spending time with his family, friends, and his dog. Thomas was happiest working with his hands and going hiking, camping, and riding his motorcycle,” says his mother Charlotte.

Thomas had made the decision to join the organ, eye and tissue donor registry. “I didn’t know until after the accident that he was an organ donor, but I wasn’t surprised,” says Charlotte. “Through his cornea donations, his legacy in helping others continues so that he could keep on giving to others.  He didn’t know a stranger; he was that kind. Because Tommy’s corneas were separately donated, he was able to be doubly generous.”

His left cornea helped restore the eyesight of a cornea transplant recipient and his right cornea went to a research facility in order to help discover the cause, and hopefully a cure, for a genetic eye disease called PPCD (Polymorphous Corneal Dystrophy).

Charlotte took part in Saving Sight’s correspondence program to say thank you to his recipients and to share about Tommy.

“I reached out to Tommy’s left cornea recipient to build a connection. I wanted to know who had been blessed with the gift of sight because of my oldest son’s generosity. The recipient happily replied. And we began to learn – I learned about the recipient as a person and the recipient was learning about Thomas as a person. It has been very rewarding for me.”

She also chose to reach out to the researcher who received Thomas’ right cornea tissue. “Because one of Tommy’s corneas went to a research facility, I wanted to make sure the scientists were making the most of their precious and life-giving donation. Eye research is important to me because it impacts the future.  If PPCD (Polymorphous Corneal Dystrophy) can come even one step closer to being cured, then it’s worth the effort. If one person doesn’t have to worry about possibly going blind, then eye, tissue, and organ donation are worth giving.”

As a donor family, Charlotte has found comfort in supporting donation and in Thomas’ legacy living on. “As a donor family, donation is a way to give back, the ultimate in paying it forward. Finding out that my oldest son wanted to give of his self after he was gone, made me even more proud to be Thomas’ mom.  Because I honored my son’s wish, he lives on – twice. I am comforted that Thomas’ donation benefited a recipient to see clearly again and research is actively exploring a cure for PPCD.”

“Thomas made a conscious decision to give of his self beyond his last breath. And I could not be more proud of him for his ever continuing gift of sight. Thomas, my oldest son, had the most deep blue eyes that continue to see even though Thomas cannot.”

Joining the Organ Donor Registry

You can join the national organ, eye and tissue donor registry at registerme.org.  “I have been considering becoming an organ donor.  Even though I wear glasses, I have been advised that I could still give the gift of sight to someone else,” says Charlotte.

Mark Meyers – Champion of Donation

Mark Meyers – Champion of Donation

As the Decedent Affairs Coordinator for The University of Kansas Health System, Mark Myers manages the day-to-day operation of their office as well as autopsy service for the health system. Mark’s support of organ, eye and tissue donation is instrumental in helping Saving Sight facilitate the gift of sight in the hospital.

“We take our work very seriously. Our goal is to never release a potential donor to the funeral home until we talk with Saving Sight as well as Midwest Transplant Network,” he says.

His team of two works 7 days a week with doctors, nurses, families, clergy, Midwest Transplant Network, Saving Sight, funeral homes and coroners to serve the families of deceased patients.

“Our entire health system is pro-donation and it trickles down to us. Every day the need for the gift of sight grows and we all realize just how valuable the gift of sight is,” says Mark.

Mark and his team work to ensure everything flows smoothly for Saving Sight and Midwest Transplant Network. “I’m very proud to partner with Saving Sight because of the work they do to help so many people – it’s a great cause that changes many lives.”

Not only does Mark support donation through his work, but he takes part in the donor advisory council at the health system. He finds it impactful hearing other’s stories of donation and learning how to be a great advocate. “Sometimes it takes a little extra time to facilitate donation, but if you think about the outcome and how many lives are changed, that time is invaluable. Once you get involved, like with donor advisory council, and you hear about the lives changed and saved out of tragedy it makes all the work we do totally worth it,” he says.

If you work at a health system and have a donor advisory council, Mark says it’s worthwhile to attend. “If you have the meetings, I encourage you to go. You not only learn so much but it can also touch your heart.”

He adds that signing up to join the donor registry is an easy process at registerme.org or at your local DMV. If you join the registry, it’s important to let your family members know your choice so there aren’t any surprises when the time comes.

“My personal preference to be a donor is important to our family and it’s the most unselfish gift you can give,” he says. “My wife and sons know how important it is to me personally. And someday it could be me or my family that needs a transplant.”

Giving Tuesday Now

Giving Tuesday Now

Together We Help. Together We Heal. Together We Stand.

 

Saving Sight has joined #GivingTuesdayNow, a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide.

#GivingTuesdayNow is a new global day of giving and unity that will take place on May 5, 2020 – in addition to the regularly scheduled December 1, 2020 #GivingTuesday – as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. Saving Sight is joining our nonprofit partners in coming together to created a wave of generosity, citizen engagement, action, and support for our communities and nonprofits around the world. 


Help us change lives by saving sight with a gift on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 and share your giving story on social media with #GivingTuesdayNow.

 

Join Us in Supporting Our Heroes!

As part of its mission to change lives by Saving Sight, we work closely with hospitals and healthcare workers to make eye donation a reality for those in need of restored sight. Today, our clinical and hospital partners need our support more than ever as they answer the call to provide care to our communities impacted by COVID-19.

Please consider joining Saving Sight in supporting healthcare workers near and far by purchasing a t-shirt from our Bonfire.com campaign. A portion of the proceeds of your purchase will go to Saving Sight to fund our work in educating hospitals about donation and supporting their donor programs.

 

Available in more color and style options on Bonfire.com

Available in more color and style options on Bonfire.com

Cheryl Shares Her Brother’s Legacy as an Eye Donor

Cheryl Shares Her Brother’s Legacy as an Eye Donor

April is National Donate Life Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation and to honor and celebrate those who have saved lives through the gift of donation.

I’m Nicole Flood, Communications Coordinator with Saving Sight, a nonprofit eye bank with a mission to change lives by saving sight.

Today, we’re honored to talk with Cheryl to learn more about her connection to organ, eye and tissue donation and her brother’s lasting legacy as an eye donor.

 

(L-R): Cheryl and Scot on a Hawaiian adventure a year after her transplant; Cheryl and Scot’s daughter and a Donate Life event; Scot with is daughter.

Hi Cheryl, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today and share your story with Saving Sight. Your brother Scot recently passed on the gift of sight as an eye donor, but he also was a living kidney donor to you many years ago.

Can you tell me a little bit about Scot – What was he like and what were some of his favorite activities?

Cheryl: Sure, so Scot was my brother and the words that we say to best describe Scot would be he was funny, and quirky, and he was just a true friend to so many people. I do think that his greatest passion in life was being a dad. He loved being active and exploring with his daughter and together they would do so many things. They loved to walk around Kansas City, and they’d hop aboard the Kansas City Streetcar and go explore City Market and various places. In asking my niece about what she remembered most about her dad she said that she really loved going to the Chiefs games and the Royals games and just having so much fun at those events. They celebrated the Kansas City World Series win and did that up big and that was just such a joyous time for Scot.

To say a little more, he did find his place really when he joined the Greater Kansas City Writing Project. There he really fell into writing – both writing his personal experiences, and also working to get other to write and share their personal experiences through writing. He was an instructional coach for Kansas City, Missouri school district and his great passion was teaching young kids to write and to really help them find their voice through writing.

Tell me about your family’s decision for Scot to be a donor and his legacy of helping others through donation.

So our experience is a little different because Scot was my kidney donor back in 1997. I’d had kidney disease that was diagnosed when I was a senior in high school and when I was 33 years old it was time that I needed a kidney. Both of my brothers were tested, both were a match, but Scot was the one who really stepped up to be my donor. For him, it was something that he could do to really help me but also just to show his character and just to do something so positive. Kidney donation was such an important thing in our family and donation in general is just so near and dear to our hearts that we wanted Scot’s legacy to include giving life to others even after he had passed.

Scot really has always helped others by giving of himself. If we needed something, we’d call him and he would be right over to help. And so it’s not surprising that he was signed up to be a donor and just really wants to help others. So this was the best way that he could continue to help even after his passing.

How do you think Scot’s legacy lives on as an eye donor?

I imagine another person being able to see because of Scot. Two people have gone from living in darkness to a window being opened where they can see so many things. We don’t know about our recipients, but I’m hoping if there’s a grandchild to be seen someone is seeing their grandchild for the first time. If there’s a beautiful sunset to be seen, I’m hoping that these people are able to enjoy a beautiful sunset. I think the things we see can shape our lives so much and I think through Scot’s donation maybe a person’s life is being changed, perspectives are being made, and just a better quality of life for someone.

As a donor family, why is donation meaningful to you and how have you found comfort in your support of eye donation and sharing Scot’s story?

It just brings us great joy to know that someone is seeing beauty through Scot’s eyes. Scot often wrote of experiencing freedom and, through the gift of his corneal tissue and the transplant that someone was able to receive, I just imagine someone is really living a more authentic live and truly experiencing freedom. I just think that Scot would most definitely want to do this for another person; if he came back and found out we had not donated anything that we could of his then I think he would be very upset with us.

His daughter is a freshman in high school now and I asked her how she felt about us donating his tissue and corneas and such and she says, “oh I’m just so glad that we did that.” Someone went and spoke to them at their high school and that she had signed something for herself to be an organ donor too. She’s just totally on board with it and I think it just really gives her great comfort that his legacy includes giving to others. 

I know you were interested in writing a letter to Scot’s recipient and you learned his recipients were international. What caused you to want to reach out?

You know we just really wanted our recipient to know about Scot, but I just kind of want to really know how life has changed for our recipients. I think that possibly we could see a little bit of Scot through those eyes or just the experiences someone has seen. Hopefully the recipients are living much fuller lives now. Mostly I just want to hear from another how Scot has changed another’s life.

What would you say to others who are considering donation?

I’m such an advocate for organ donation. Scot had donated to me and then my friend ended up being a sister-like match for me, which it just seems like such a miracle that she was such a good match for me. Since my transplant, another friend of mine was an altruistic donor to a man that she did not know. And then she inspired another person to be an altruistic donor. Organ donation just really is so soul-stirring. Of course, being a kidney recipient myself I do encourage others to consider donation. There’s nothing greater than knowing one being is willing to lessen the burden of another through organ donation. When I hear organ donation stories, I know there is such good in the world. It gives our family great pride and comfort to know that our tragedy of losing Scot lessens the pain of another’s suffering. I mean I really feel like the circle of life provides through organ donation. It just seems like it’s the ultimate act of humanity. To me it reinforces my belief that we truly are placed on this earth to help out each other and to lift each other up and to give another what they need in a pretty great way.

I know that April is your 2nd transplant anniversary month, so that’s pretty special with it being Donation Life Month with Donate Life America as well.

Yes, last year my one year transplant my friend – my donor – and I got together with some people who were very supportive of organ donation and just of the road that we travelled. And I tell you that day I just was filled with gratitude and I felt like everything went right that day because I was so filled with gratitude. I felt like even the traffic parted for me, like I was walking on air. If everyone could just have a day where they think ok I am going to just completely be grateful today I think they would see what a difference a day like that can make because that’s a day that I remember so vividly. It will be different this year because I won’t be able to get together with my donor, but I plan on paying it forward by doing some donations – I don’t know where I’m going to donate to yet – but to do some donations to either St. Luke’s Kidney Transplant Clinic just to give back a little bit this year and find where there’s a need and to give myself.

That’s definitely a wonderful sentiment, and just experiencing a day like that of gratitude I think is something we all could appreciate for sure.

I had a pretty good sense of what it was like to be truly grateful that day because it had been a hard journey to get my second transplant. Of course, in looking back on it when everything at the end went so well you think, ‘oh that wasn’t so bad.’ but to be in the midst of it and to be in that place of uncertainty, it really was hard.

That’s wonderful Cheryl, Is there anything else you would like to mention that we haven’t discussed?

You know, like I said, donation can just truly stir your soul. I definitely would encourage people to find out more about organ donation. Now that I’ve learned about Saving Sight, just to learn more about eye donation. You know, I hadn’t really thought about eye donation up to the point before we lost Scot, but what a great way to help another person. Totally life changing, so my message is please donate.

Well thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us today and for allowing us to honor your brother’s legacy as a donor hero.

Thank you for talking with me.

If you would like to learn more about Saving Sight, or would like to register as a donor, please visit saving-sight.org.