Retired Judge Gary Schmidt Shares His Story as a Corneal Transplant Recipient

Retired Judge Gary Schmidt Shares His Story as a Corneal Transplant Recipient

April was National Donate Life month and Saving Sight took part in numerous celebrations in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois to help spread awareness about the impact of organ, eye and tissue donation.

On April 9th, Saving Sight was honored to take part in Donor Family Recognition Day at the Missouri State Capitol. During the event, donor families were honored by the Governor and were also introduced on the House floor. We also had the great privilege of having one of our cornea recipients, retired Judge Gary Schmidt, speak at the event to share about the impact corneal transplantation has had on his life.

Schmidt finds it very meaningful to speak at events like this. “It gives me an opportunity to express my gratitude to the families of donors of all types. Donors have done so much to improve the lives, perhaps save the lives of others. It is a privilege to say ‘Thank you!’ I’m not able to find the words to adequately express the debt of gratitude we owe them.”

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Watch Retired Judge Gary Schmidt Share His Story at Donor Family Recognition Day at the Missouri State Capitol

“Donors have done so much to improve the lives, perhaps save the lives of others. It is a privilege to say ‘Thank you!’ I’m not able to find the words to adequately express the debt of gratitude we owe them.”

Gary Schmidt, Cornea Recipient

After the event, Judge Schmidt followed up with Saving Sight to discuss his experience in further detail:

Saving Sight: Judge Schmidt, can you tell us about your experience with corneal transplantation?

Schmidt: What I remember most is the fear. When my corneas both went bad at the same time, I was almost completely blind. It happened in a few short days, and I wasn’t prepared for the possibility I might be sightless for the rest of my life.

Saving Sight: What caused you to require a transplant?

Schmidt: My corneas both failed from a combination of diabetes, age and bad genes.

Saving Sight: What was your transplant experience like?

Schmidt: Unfortunately, it didn’t go smoothly. Dr. Leutkemeyer elected to do my left eye first and, after being placed, the graft moved out of position. It took several trips to surgery before the graft took and held. The right eye went much more smoothly, and I was seeing quite well within a few days.

Saving Sight: Did you have a connection to organ, eye and tissue donation prior to your transplant?

Schmidt: When I was first out of law school, an old high school classmate took on a project of signing up many bone marrow transplant donors. I was one of her targets. The idea didn’t take much selling; registering as a bone marrow donor might save a life. So I registered, and got an immediate preliminary match. Unfortunately further testing showed we were not compatible. Ultimately, several of my high school classmates did indeed donate bone marrow.

Saving Sight: What’s something you learned about the donation process through your experience?

Schmidt: I am constantly amazed at the things that may be donated, both while the donor is living and postmortem.

Saving Sight: What is something you’d like others to know about the process?

Schmidt: I would hope that everyone is aware of how much donation can change the world for a person, for a family. In my case, my donor gave me the gift of sight. Some donors are able to save lives.

Saving Sight: What are some things you enjoy to do and are able to do now that your sight is restored?

Schmidt: If I couldn’t see, I’d be a huge burden to my family. The gift of sight gives me independence, and keeps me from being a burden to them. I can now do all the things I enjoy, including going to high school football games and reading. It was always my dream to spend retirement reading all the things I never had time to read when I was working full time.

Saving Sight: What caused you to write to your donor family through our Correspondence Program?

Schmidt: Considering what my donor did for me, how could I not try and express my gratitude for their relative that did so much for me? In my case, I hope they are proud of the very good things their donor was able to accomplish. They should be very proud of him.

Saving Sight: Why is speaking at events like Donor Day at the Capitol meaningful to you as a cornea recipient?

Schmidt: It gives me an opportunity to express my gratitude to families of donors of all types. Donors have done so much to improve lives, perhaps save the lives of others. It is a privilege to say “Thank you!” I’m not able to find the words to adequately express the debt of gratitude we owe them.

Saving Sight: Is there anything else about your experience you would like to mention?

Schmidt: I think it must be incredibly satisfying to work with an agency (Saving Sight) that does so much good. Before my eyes failed I was vaguely aware that someone must be tending to such things. Now I can put smiling faces to some of the people who are doing such incredible work.

 

Cate Kane Poem

Cate Kane Poem

Featured Artist Poetry

Cate Kane is a three-time corneal transplant recipient with Saving Sight. She has a life-long passion for writing, giving back, and serving her community.

I SEE – LITTLE ONE© 

By Cate Kane 10-23-12

Hey, little bit, come here & look at this for me,

Tell me, dear one, what is that you see?

Can you possibly describe it to me?

For as you know I only see shadows or not things as they be.

Hey, little one, come here & look at this with me.

I’ll tell you, dear one, what I can see.

I see colors & hues & shapes so magnificently.

For as you know, I can see real things and they can see me.

 

A gift to the Heartland Lions Eye Bank (now known as Saving Sight).

Read more about Cate’s experience as a cornea transplant recipient click here.

Retired Pediatrics Nurse Finds Relief through Corneal Transplantation

Retired Pediatrics Nurse Finds Relief through Corneal Transplantation

Haley, Elaine and Rick at the Candlelight Memorial in Springfield on March 16th.

As a retired pediatrics nurse and two-time cornea transplant recipient, Elaine is familiar with the impact eye, organ and tissue transplantation has on the lives of others.

Elaine has keratoconus, a progressive eye disease that thins the cornea and causes it to become cone-shaped, distorting vision. To help with her worsening vision, Elaine underwent her first cornea transplant in the 1980s. After her transplant, Elaine was given gas permeable contact lenses. These contacts ended up causing corneal abrasions and Elaine discontinued wearing a contact in that eye. “Over the years it had become very scarred to the point my eyelid could not close at night and this caused dryness and discomfort. I also could not see through the scar,” says Elaine. She also had cataract surgery on that eye, which added to her corneal scarring.
Elaine had been told her corneal scarring and vision couldn’t be corrected in that eye. Due to the pain she was experiencing, she and her best friend decided to seek a second opinion. That’s when she discovered optometrist Dr. David Pierce. “I absolutely adore my optometrist, Dr. Pierce. He’s just so caring and referred me to Dr. Daniel Osborn who is an ophthalmologist. They discussed my case and decided they could replace my cornea transplant. Dr. Osborn did a fabulous job!”
Dr. Obsborn performed Elaine’s second corneal transplant on June 16, 2018 and she is healing well. As of February 2019, Elaine’s vision is testing 20/25 in her transplant eye and she hopes to continue getting better once the rest of her stitches are removed.
“The pain I went through previously was just horrible,” says Elaine. “What I’ve been through with the second transplant has been worth it with my eye not drying out at night and fussing with the drops. I’m more comfortable and better now.”
Thanks to her cornea transplant, Elaine, who celebrated her 81st birthday this February, is able to enjoy watching birds outdoors and from her dining room window again. She and her husband HF also are able to keep up with their 5 kids, 12 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren now as well.
Connecting through Correspondence
Elaine chose to write to her donor’s family to say thank you for their generosity that made her transplant possible. “The tissue is so priceless to the people who need it. I will be forever thankful to her (Elaine’s eye donor), to her family and to God for my new cornea. When you help someone else the blessings will always be returned to you.”
Sharing Her Story at the Springfield Candlelight Memorial
Saving Sight was honored to co-host a Candlelight Memorial with Mid-America Transplant on Saturday, March 16, 2019. We participate in this event annually to honor eye, organ and tissue donor families. Elaine spoke at the event to share her gratitude for her restored sight as a cornea recipient.
Happy Holidays from Saving Sight!

Happy Holidays from Saving Sight!

Happy Holidays from Saving Sight!

Cynthia captured the crisp, winter scene pictured as our 2018 featured holiday artist.

Happy Holidays!

Thanks to our staff, partners, volunteers and supporters of our work in eye donation, more corneal recipients like Cynthia are able to enjoy the twinkling holiday lights and watch the first snowfall of the season. And more donor families are able to find comfort in their loved one’s legacy living on through the gift of sight in 2018.

We wish you a bright holiday season and look forward to our continued work in the new year. Happy Holidays, from all of us at Saving Sight!

About the Artist

Thanks to the generosity of three eye donors, Cynthia was able to correct her vision through the gift of sight. “Prior to the loss of my sight at the age of 20, I was a photographer, so you can see how important my eyes were to me,” she says. Cynthia has Keratoconus and started losing her sight due to the thinning of her cornea that caused blurred vision. “My hope of recovering my eyesight came in the form of eye donors and skilled surgeons and physicians. Words cannot express what kind of hope I was given through the blessings of people I do not know.”

Cynthia’s Story – A Photographer’s Vision

Cynthia’s Story – A Photographer’s Vision

“Prior to the loss of my sight at the age of 20, I was a photographer, so you can see how important my eyes were to me,” Cynthia says.

The vibrant colors of a flower in spring. Seeing a bumblebee buzz and dart through the garden. The crisp outline of a frozen snowflake on the windowpane. All of these sights are just a few of the many beautiful moments Cynthia has captured through her photography. As the progressive and degenerative eye disease Keratoconus began to worsen and blur her vision, Cynthia could no longer see the images she once loved to photograph.

“Prior to the loss of my sight at the age of 20, I was a photographer, so you can see how important my eyes were to me,” Cynthia says. “I have Keratoconus and slowly started to lose my sight due to a thinning of the cornea causing blurred vision. By the age of 20 I had a cane and was considered legally blind in both eyes. My eyes hurt all the time and, as you can imagine, I was scared. However, my hope of recovering my eyesight came in the form of two organ donors and skilled surgeons and physicians. My eye sight was better than 20/20 after the procedures!”

Once her sight was restored, Cynthia began playing with photography to find different ways to show others a glimpse of how she saw the world with Keratoconus. She was able to capture a photo that provides a great visual of what she saw before and after her corneal transplants. It was important to Cynthia to capture this photo to show others the impact cornea donation and transplantation makes in so many lives.

As is sometimes the case with Keratonconus, Cynthia’s condition returned and she underwent a third transplant this year. “Though hard to go through a second time in life, I am now 38 years old and this summer I received yet another cornea transplant!”

“Words cannot express what kind of hope I was given through the blessings of people I do not know! Through the love and kindness I have been shown I return it every day by being as kind and giving as I possibly can be to others. Thus, the lives of those who gave to me keep giving now through me,” she says. “I will spend my life paying it forward as my thanks to organizations like Saving Sight and to all the people involved in the process of restoring my and many others eyesight.”

Cynthia captured these before and after photos to show others a glimpse of how she saw the world with Keratoconus.

 

 

Cynthia’s Photography Gallery

Jason’s Letter of Thanks

Jason’s Letter of Thanks

 Jason’s Letter

After Jason received a cornea transplant, he asked his sister to help him write a letter to his eye donor’s family to thank them for their selfless gift. 

Jason and Mistie on her wedding day. Jason was her husband’s best man.

Jason and Mistie are brother and sister and best friends. After Jason received a cornea transplant, he asked his sister to help him write a letter to his eye donor’s family to thank them for their selfless gift.

Jason and Mistie chose to share their letter with Saving Sight to highlight the life-changing impact eye donation has had for Jason and to thank all eye donors and their families for helping others in their time of grief. 

 


Dear Donor Family:                                                                                                                                          

I am the recipient of a cornea from your loved one. I am having my sister write for me as I don’t write too well. I want to thank you for helping me see again. I am 38 years old and had developed a condition that alters the shape of my cornea. At the time of my transplant, the cornea in my left eye was the shape of a football and I could no longer see even the big E on the eye chart. I had severe headaches due to the eyestrain because of this. I was told that I would go blind because I have the same condition in both eyes. I was having trouble reading, was bumping into things and could not even watch my favorite sports teams play their sports.

Now a little past a month past surgery, I can see!! My vision continues to improve daily and now both eye are equal in vision. I can read the fifth line on the eye chart unassisted. When I went back to the doctor they day after surgery, I was so excited to be able to see. I looked at my sister and mom and exclaimed, “I can see!!” then had to read the line for the doctor. No more headaches, I can watch my baseball games and see to read my books. Every day I am seeing more and smaller things.

While I know that the loss of someone was necessary for me to see, I am thankful. I am sad for your loss and I pray for your family’s comfort. I want you to know that to be given this gift means so much to me. You have given me my life of sports and books back. For that you will have my eternal gratitude.

                                                                                                                May God bless and comfort you,

                                                                                                                Jason

From Jason’s Sister:

Dear Donor Family,

My brother Jason is very special to me. He and I are 14 months apart and he was my first playmate, my best friend, and even partner in crime growing up. You gift means so much more to my family because he is one of God’s special children. Jason may be an adult but he has the mind and heart of a child. He will never grow up.

Jason has the most loving heart I have ever met. I have seen him be bullied and immediately after he heals, he goes up to the tormentors and offers them friendship. While Jason may not change the world through a career, he changes it by being himself. Jason always sees the good in everyone. He is quick to forgive and no one is a stranger. Most importantly he not only shares his faith in God, he lives it.

Jason loves all sports. When asked what is his favorite, he can tell you that it is ______ season and his favorite team is _______ and what their record is. Then tell you that they play _____ tonight … and it continues.

When I heard about Jason’s eyes, I was saddened because it would mean that he one day would be blind. He struggled so much to learn to read. He finally succeeded at the age of 13. Mom and I used Archie comic books to encourage him and reward him for every new thing he read. As he discovered the written word, I would hear “Sissy what’s this word?” “Sissy read to me.”

When Mom approached Jason about writing you and what it meant, he broke down into tears. He hated the idea that someone had to die for him to get the transplant. Then he immediately asked me, “Sissy can you pray for them with me?” I have no doubt he remembers your family in his prayers daily, that is just the way my big brother is.

He told me what he wanted to say in his letter and asked me to write it. While his letter is in my hand, it comes from his heart.

My prayer is that these letters offer you some comfort and peace in your decision to donate your loved one’s organs. Please know that the gift you have bestowed on us will never be taken for granted, no did it go to someone more special. I know that my brother may not be considered worthy of such a gift because of his being mentally handicapped but we are so blessed by it. In closing, your loved one must have been a very special person because he/she has to be in order to view the world through such a special eye.

                                                                                                May God continue to hold you in his hand,

                                                                                                Mistie (Jason’s Sister)