One Couple Shares Their Unique Connection to Eye Donation

One Couple Shares Their Unique Connection to Eye Donation

Julie and Chris have a unique connection to corneal transplantation. Chris as a corneal tissue recipient and Julie as a tissue recovery technician for the Saving Sight eye bank.

“In late July 2016, I had a corneal abrasion on my right eye that sealed to form an ulcer covering my entire cornea,” says Chris. “My ophthalmologist put me on a regiment of fortified Vancomycin and Tobramycin to be taken every hour for two weeks. After two weeks of unrelenting agony and exhaustion, the ulcer had not decreased in size, and it was determined that a transplant had to occur.”

On August 5, Dr. Fraunfelder performed a cornea transplant in Chris’s right eye. “Though there was immediate relief from any pain, it took about two weeks for my eye to be able to be reopened. Since then, I’ve had to have a fitted solid contact lens, and have to take a steroid eye drop every day, but my vision has returned to normal. I’m extremely thankful for the team at University Hospital who helped me through this process and extremely thankful for Dr. Fraunfelder for performing the surgery.”

Chris says his surgery experience was a typical outpatient procedure. “Having the stitches removed a year later was more stressful, and even that was easy,” he says.

“It’s nice not having to wake up every hour on the hour in agony to squirt drugs in my eye. I was essentially bed-ridden during this time, unable to go to work, and underneath quite a bit of stress due to feeling completely shut out,” says Chris.

Julie and Chris on their wedding day.

Chris and his wife Julie are both advocates for organ, eye and tissue donation. “Without this surgery, I’m not sure how my quality of life would be,” says Chris. “As a freshman, I worked with an on-campus organ donation group called Donate Life, raising money and awareness for organ donation. Though I’ve always been an organ donor, this put into perspective exactly how important it is that people are in favor of donating.”

“While working as a recovery technician, I’ve discovered a large part of the public are anti-donation or just not registered donors due to common misconceptions, while many people wait for the opportunity to receive a donation that will drastically change their lives,” adds Julie. “I have always been very pro-donation, but had no personal association before Chris’s transplant.”

Julie has been a recovery technician with Saving Sight since this summer. She applied because she enjoyed the uniqueness of the job and wanted to use her medical experience to make a positive impact in her society/community.

“Each case is so unique; it keeps me growing as an individual and professional continually,” she says. “Being able to make such a difference in people’s lives is fulfilling, but the community that is Saving Sight was so unexpected and has meant so much. I love getting to spend time with my coworkers.”

Chris and Julie are thankful to the many individuals who have chosen to give the gift of sight. “It is very respectful of the donor and their loved ones and can not only save a life but comfort the donor’s loved ones.”

Chris and Julie with their #GivingTuesday #UnSelfie sign.

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

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.”


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.


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.”