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.” 

Jackie’s Story

Jackie’s Story

“I was diagnosed with Fuchs Dystrophy in 2007, in 2010 I had corneal transplants in both eyes. In September 2020 I needed a cataract removed in my right eye which lead to another cornea transplant. I am so grateful for cornea donors. I wouldn’t be able to see without them.”  💚💙

Jackie, Cornea Recipient

Share Your Story with Saving Sight

Have you benefited from one of Saving Sight’s programs? If so, we would love to hear how it made an impact on your life. Each year, Saving Sight’s vision programs change thousands of lives, and our recipients’ stories are one of the most powerful tools we have to communicate our mission. When we can illustrate our mission well, we can help even more people.

If you’re interested in sharing your story for our communications, please fill out the form on this page to let us know a little bit more about your experience. Afterward, a Saving Sight representative will contact you with more information about how you can become an advocate for our sight-saving work.

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In Memory, An Artist’s Gift

In Memory, An Artist’s Gift

Kansas City artist, Gabriella Mountain, was most well known for her larger-than-life abstract sculptures, mosaics, and stained-glass pieces. As an artist, she was diverse in her craft, creating commissioned works throughout the Kansas City area, including the old Main Library’s mosaic floor at 12th and McGee and the stained-glass windows at the Whiteman Air Force base chapel. Gabriella lived a remarkable and storied life, beginning in Hungary in 1918. After fleeing from war-torn Europe at the end of World War II, she came to America and started her life and career as an artist in the City area.

Gabriella Mountain, via Dignity Memorial

Dragons repousse door, via KCStudio

While she was a well-established and awarded artist, Gabriella’s struggle with vision loss was lesser-known. After suffering from Fuchs’ Corneal Dystrophy for years, Gabriella received a sight-restoring corneal transplant surgery in March of 2013. While she was 95 years old, the transplant improved her vision, allowing her to continue creating beautiful works of art. In her later years, Gabriella transitioned from creating metal sculptures to abstract textile and fiber art.

After a long and beautiful life, Gabriella passed away in May 2020 at the age of 102. In gratitude for the gift of sight, she left a gift to Saving Sight to continue our work restoring sight to others. We remember Gabriella in memoriam for her vision as an artist and her vision to serve others by supporting Saving Sight.

If you are interested in making a gift to change lives by Saving Sight, please visit saving-sight.org/give or reach out to our communications team to discuss leaving your legacy with a planned gift.

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.

Kristie Celebrates Her Two-Year Transplant Anniversary

Kristie Celebrates Her Two-Year Transplant Anniversary

This month, Kristie celebrates her two-year corneal transplant anniversary. “It sure is a blessing and awesome to be able to receive a corneal transplant,” she says. “I learned those who give the gift of sight can sure help others!”

After 5 years of having issues seeing clearly out of her left eye, Kristie was able to receive a corneal transplant on March 19, 2018. Kristie’s vision had deteriorated due to corneal disease.

“It just got worse and worse as time went by to where contacts or glasses would not correct it! I was in surgery for 5 hours,” says Kristie, who was 34 and a stay-at-home mom at the time of her transplant. “After surgery, I was told to wear an eye patch for 1 day, but I ended up needing to wear it for a few days as my eye was sensitive to light. My eye was sore for a few weeks and slightly watery and bloody looking. I could not bend down or lift anything more than 25 pounds for 6 weeks and I had to use 2 eye drops after surgery for a month – an antibiotic drop and a sterile drop.”

Dr. Shachar Tauber was Kristie’s corneal surgeon. “He is a great doctor,” she says. “I would suggest him to anyone who lives in that area. He was very informative to my husband during surgery and after and he even checked on me after surgery and told me to let him know anytime I needed anything. I will go back to him again if I have any more eye problems in the future.”

Kristie adds she also had checkups with her eye doctor, Dr. Hood, every 2 weeks for a month then every month for 11 months to have stitches removed. “I had 16 stitches and they took them out 2 or 3 stitches at a time. I recovered nicely with no complications! Each time I have doctor’s appointment my sight gets better and better!” She’ll continue to have follow-up appointments at least once a year. “There is also a little pin hole black dot on my left iris that will be there for the rest of my life, so it helps my eye drain,” she says.

“It’s awesome and I’m thankful,” says Kristie. “I can actually see better than my right eye now which is interesting because my right eye used to be my ‘helping me see eye’.

“Before my transplant, I could not see anything, and everything was foggy in that eye. I couldn’t even see words on the TV.  I can now see in a hard contact. I have to wear a contact because I have astigmatism in both eyes. Before I could not wear a contact and see through it.” Kristie adds that she was born hard of hearing and the corneal transplant has helped her so much to see better and navigate her day-to-day life. She and her husband are even going to the gym and exercising together now.

Connecting Through Correspondence

Prior to Kristie’s transplant, she didn’t have a connection to organ, eye and tissue donation. Through the process she says she’s learned a lot. “It sure makes a difference to someone’s life. Without a transplant, some can’t see or live better lives. Some could even die.” Kristie chose to write a thank you letter to her donor family as well. “I just wanted to say thank you for their loved one’s precious gift.”

Because of her experience Kristie has signed up to be a donor on her driver’s license to help others. You can join the donor registry at registerme.org or at your local DMV.