For 23 years, Angela was 100 percent blind in her right eye. Thanks to the generous gift of sight from an eye donor and the work of her surgeons, she has regained her sight!
When Angela went in for what was a routine eye exam to get new contacts in 2017, her eye doctor expressed concerns about her right eye (which she had been blind in for as long as she can remember) and thought she might have Keratoconus. Her doctor referred her to see an ophthalmologist at MU Health Care. “The following week, when I met my would-be surgeons, they confirmed I had severe Keratoconus, explained what it was, what my options were, and what it would mean if I opted not to do the surgery,” says Angela. “After going over all the pros and cons with my family and the risks (which were incredibly minimal due to my current condition), I scheduled my surgery the following month.”
Angela underwent a cornea transplant to correct her disease, with the added bonus possibility of regaining vision. “It was really great! I absolutely loved my surgeons; Dr. Shanmugam and Dr. Cowden,” says Angela. “They did a superb job with explaining everything to me, making me feel comfortable, and really letting me know they were going to take care of me throughout the process.” The procedure took 4 hours and was a success.
The Path to Regaining Sight
One thing Angela learned through her experience, and one thing people don’t often hear about, is the possibility of rejection. This can occur when your body’s immune system detects your donor tissue as a foreign object and it tries to destroy it. “I didn’t give much thought to it, however, when it happened to me, it was pretty scary,” says Angela. “I did have a rejection episode a couple weeks later, but my surgeons were amazing and reverted it after 12 days of raising my medications and an injection procedure we did to self-administrate steroids.” Angela added she could not have been in better hands and was grateful she called her surgeons at the first signs of rejection.
“It has been amazing just to see again. My world got so much brighter after surgery, literally! I can’t see very well, comparatively speaking, I’m at 20/150. I’m 6-months post-surgery now, and my surgeons and I have been working on what we can do to continuously gain my vision back,” says Angela.
So much has changed in her life since her transplant in unexpected ways. Angela quips she’s noticeably better at sports now that she has depth perception. “I used to have to work really hard to make shots, and hit things on target. It’s funny not having realized how much depth perception helps people with daily things!” She adds that it’s been wonderful being able to read, see people and experience the world with vision from both eyes.
To those going through corneal transplantation or a similar eye surgery, Angela advises to listen to your body and do what you need to heal. “I ended up taking a week off of work just to sleep. It helped me recover fairly quickly. Additionally, after that time I took off, I worked short days for a week. My experience was unique in that I was blind and then could see. So, I was not only recovering from the transplant, but from gaining vision back. I was experiencing double-vision, migraines, and extreme sensitivity to light. For my recovery, I just did what my body was wanting me to do and I listened to my surgeons and did everything they told me to do.”
The Power of Donation
“Words could never adequately describe how thankful I am,” says Angela of her eye donor. “It did so much for me, much more than what any of my doctors or I believed could happen. It really can change someone’s life in an incredibly positive way.” Angela has been a registered organ, eye and tissue donor since she was 14-years-old and it’s a cause that is near to her heart. “Now, being on the other side of it, it has given me a deeper affection for donation.”
You can join the organ, eye and tissue donor registry at www.registerme.org.
Some of Rosalia’s fondest memories of her mother revolve around reading. “Mother was a reader,” says Rosalia. “She always said a day she didn’t get to read anything was hardly worth it. She would sit down 30 minutes a day to read. It was important to her, and she taught her kids that.”
For as long as Rosalia remembers, the love of reading and learning have been important to her. “When I was in third grade, I read every book in the third grade library,” she recalls, amused. “I’ve been a reader from a long way back. I’ve always joked if I couldn’t find anything to read, I would read the labels on the soup can.”
This love of learning led Rosalia to become a home economics teacher and she also was certified to teach English. It was while teaching she met her husband.
When the hereditary disease Fuchs’ dystrophy threatened Rosalia’s ability to see clearly in retirement, she received two corneal transplants in the span of two years thanks to the generous gift of sight from eye donors. “I just feel so fortunate and blessed because this changed my life so completely,” she says. “I can’t express how grateful I am to the donors for my gift of sight.”
Rosalia is no stranger to Fuchs’ dystrophy and cornea transplantation. Her father underwent two full corneal transplants and her sister has also received two transplants so she knew what to expect. “You don’t just wake up one morning and everything is so cloudy you can’t see,” she says, “But it’s gradual and you try to compensate as long as possible.” As her eyesight diminished, Rosalia began having to read and sew using hand held magnifying glasses they kept in every room in their home. She also was the main driver in the family at the time and needed her vision corrected to be able to continue taking her husband to his dialysis appointments.
Thanks to her transplants, Rosalia can see clearly in her daily activities and while spending time with her 3 children and 5 grandchildren. “It is so wonderful that now I can pick up almost anything and read the fine print. It’s such a blessing.”
Rosalia has long carried the organ donor designation on the back of her driver’s license and encourages others to join the registry as well. “I strongly felt that was important, and having had a parent who had been through it I understand it even more,” she says. “When you no longer need it, if someone else can see or receive a heart, lung or kidney why not donate to help them? Because of my husband’s need for dialysis, I know how long the list is for getting a kidney, so I felt very blessed to be able to receive a cornea transplant,” says Rosalia.
You can help others when you join the national organ, eye and tissue donor registry at www.registerme.org. And be sure to discuss your decision with family members so they know what your wishes are regarding donation.
Thanks to the gift of sight, Anita was able to receive a corneal transplant in hopes of restoring her vision.
Not long ago, diminishing sight threatened to take away Anita’s ability to read and see well enough to sew her quilts. An active and proud grandmother, she and her husband recently retired to Columbia to be closer to their children and grandchildren. “We are loving being close enough to be part of their lives as they are growing up,” says Anita. Though they now live in mid-Missouri, Anita is a proud Vermonter through and through and they enjoy going back to visit every summer.
Anita’s journey with sight started with a cataract operation that did not have the outcome of clearing her vision. Since the cataract surgery, she has had 3 corneal transplants in hopes of restoring her vision in her right eye. “My eye appears to have been damaged by a few bouts of Bell’s Palsy,” says Anita. “My eye wouldn’t blink and during that time most likely caused damage to my eye as it wasn’t closing properly. The eye wasn’t shutting and it might have dried out the bottom of the first transplant.”
Anita’s most recent corneal transplant is working well so far. “With this one they have closed my eye a little bit from the corner to help keep it a tight close so my eye won’t get dried out at night.” Anita has seen progress and her vision keeps getting better and better.
“Following my first surgery, I’ve had Dr. Fraunfelder. He’s been great and I’ve enjoyed working with him,” says Anita. Dr. Frederick Fraunfelder is the director of University of Missouri Health Care’s Mason Eye Institute and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the MU School of Medicine.
Sending Thanks through Correspondence
Anita chose to write a letter to her donor family through Saving Sight’s Correspondence Program. “If someone in my family became an eye or organ donor I would be most appreciative to get a note from the recipient,” says Anita. “This generous decision that their loved one made resulted in my receiving a whole cornea transplant in a procedure aimed at restoring vision in my right eye. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. This generosity will never be forgotten.”
Anita is grateful to her donor family and is a registered organ, eye and tissue donor herself.
You can save and enhance lives when you join the national registry at registerme.org.