Regaining Sight after 23 Years

Angela smiling in a black dress. 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.