Eye organ donation gives SRHS associate new sight.
When I was a little girl, of about 5 or 6, I can remember my Mother telling me to please move away from the TV, that I was going to ruin my eyes. Sitting on the floor, I would back away for a little while, but I always ended up back in front of the TV, sitting as close as I could get.
When I started first grade, my new friends would sit in the back of the class, and I would sit with them. I thought it strange that they could see what the teacher was writing on the blackboard but I could not. From time to time, the teacher would rearrange seating, and I would end up on the front row. I was amazed how much better I could see the board, but I never attributed it to having impaired vision.
We lived out in the country on a farm and did not go to a doctor regularly, only when we were sick. At school, the nurse would periodically do a health assessment on the children. This included having us read the eye chart. I must have done well because she never questioned me or had me read the chart over again.
I would leave feeling good that I had passed her test. I did not realize that the other children could see the chart without having to squint as I was doing.
It wasn’t until I was in the third grade, that my teacher noticed that I could not read back to her the words or numbers she wrote on the blackboard. When she realized I was having difficulty, she had me come and sit in the chairs up front. She sent my mother a note stating that maybe they should make an appointment for me to see an eye doctor.
My eyes were tested and, of course, I was given glasses.
Over time my vision worsened and I was given different prescriptions, but there was never any talk of other ways to correct or improve my vision.
I would go to football games and the players on the field would look like ants running around. I found myself cheering when my friends cheered or booing when they booed. Frankly, I could not tell when there was a touchdown, interception, fumble or anything.
I remember at the close of my senior year, I went to see my optometrist and he told me that one day I would be legally blind.
I had no idea what that meant, because I did not know anyone who was legally blind; I only knew people who were totally blind. The scary part of all of this is that I continued to drive.
Eventually I moved away and made my home in North Carolina. It was there, after a time, that I received the news that I was legally blind. My optometrist told me that there was nothing more he could do to help me and that he was sending me to an eye specialist. His office referred me to Dr. Saunderhaus, whom they said was one of the best ophthalmologists in the area.
When I began seeing Dr. Saunderhaus, he told me that my vision was getting progressively worse and that I had an eye disease called keratosis – a skin condition marked by the excessive growth of horny tissue. The tissue in my eyes was not holding firm but was bulging forward into a cone shape, thus blocking the vision of my cornea.
On one visit, after checking my eyes, he said that there was a fairly new procedure where they transplanted the corneal tissue from a donor onto the eye of another person.
“You are a good candidate,” he said. “Because in many cases, the progression of the disease stops, but yours is continuing. I have never done the surgery before, so you will be my first. I doubt that it will work, but what do we have to lose? But first, we need to put your name on the list for a donor.”
Being in my twenties, the thought of receiving tissue from a deceased person was overwhelming. I had to weigh my fear against the possibly of having better sight.
The operation was performed on my left eye, and it was considered a success. My doctor was astonished when I told him I could see the very next day. My vision was blurry, but I could still see much better than I could the day before.
Years later, I had my right eye done and, with corrective contacts, my vision is now 20/25, which is a long way from the 20/200 that it used to be. The operation is done on an outpatient basis now, but back in the 1970s it was still experimental, and I had to stay in the hospital a week. It’s a delicate operation and there is a chance the tissue could shift or be rejected.
One great miracle was when I went outside and looked up into the sky. I was amazed that for the first time I could see individual stars instead of seeing them clomped together into one huge glittering ball.
I am thankful and grateful for the blessing I received from an operation that was not supposed to work but, today, is giving folks back their sight.
My heartfelt thanks go to those who have placed their names on donor lists and who feel the need to make life better and more productive for those around them.
Learn more about organ donation at SharingHopeSC.org.