A life becomes a legacy through donation. Donor families give and grieve. The staff of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank passionately serves to facilitate donation and to recognize our beloved donors and their families. We embrace a sincere desire to exemplify and honor the final and altruistic gift from one life to another. It is our hope that in sharing the following personal stories and sentiments, we will provide comfort, inspiration and encouragement to the families and friends of our generous cornea and eye donors.
Mariah Marshall (Dec 03, 1997 - Jan 24, 2015)
On January 24, 2015, Mariah Marshall lost her life in a tragic car accident at the young age of 17 near her home town of Bloomfield, Iowa. Mariah was a junior at Davis County High School and had just completed her CNA certificate. She wanted to become an Occupational Therapist to help patients who had suffered a brain injury.
Mariah was a country girl with an infectious smile that could light up a room, and she never knew a stranger. Mariah’s mom, Melissa, described Mariah as having a genuine heart of gold.
To honor Mariah’s giving spirit, her family decided to donate Mariah’s corneas and heart valves after her untimely death. Mariah’s gifts were also a bright spot in her family’s time of grief. They found comfort knowing that their tragedy would change others’ lives for the better.
Mariah’s heart valves were donated to a three-month-old boy. In a letter to that boy’s family, Melissa wrote, “Mariah had a love for kids that was undeniable and they were always drawn to her. I was beyond ecstatic that a perfect match was with your three-month-old little boy. I know she would be so proud, as we are.” Melissa also went on to say, “Please know that it has given my family great comfort knowing that our Miss Mariah was able to help you in your need. I hope your baby boy is doing well and on the way to a full recovery.”
One of Mariah’s corneas was gifted to a 74-year-old man named Dennis. Dennis was so grateful for his newly restored sight, he immediately sent a thank you note to Mariah’s family through the Iowa Lions Eye Bank “Gratitude Is The Best Attitude” correspondence program.
Melissa promptly replied to Dennis with a photo of Mariah and thanked him for taking the time to write. She said she found peace knowing that Mariah’s legacy lives on through the gift of sight. Dennis was so appreciative to hear more about Mariah’s story that he decided to share the following message on Facebook and on a large screen at his church:
As a result of this young lady’s untimely death and the thoughtfulness of her family to donate her corneas to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, I have a second chance at sight. The greatest gift of all is to be able to see clearly again. I knew I had been given the cornea of a young person because of the beautiful colors I am able to see. These old eyes have not seen colors this bright in my life. This story has to bring a tear to your eyes as it did to mine when I got this photo from the parent of this young lady. What a terrible loss to a family, but a great chance for her to live again through my eyes.
Melissa and Dennis have continued to exchange letters over the past few years, and Melissa shared that she has found a sense of healing in each letter she receives. Mariah lives on through her selfless final gifts of sight and life to others.
Kyle "Gibby" Vosberg (Oct 11, 1996 - Feb 12, 2016)
On February 12, 2016, Kyle Vosberg lost his life in a tragic car accident at the young age of 19. Kyle was the middle child of his Potosi, Wisconsin family, and left behind his father, David “Bubba” Vosberg, his mother and stepfather Lisa and Eric “Benny” Gotzinger and two sisters Katie and Kalynn. Survivors also include a large extended family and many friends.
Kyle graduated from Potosi High school in 2015, and was a proud member of the Potosi football team. He gave it his all each Friday night on the football field and then worked at his job on a local farm every Saturday and Sunday. He planned to attend Southwest Wisconsin Technical College for the lineman program in August of 2016.
Kyle was known as a thoughtful and caring gentle giant, famous for his “bear hugs.” Kyle’s mom Lisa said, "When Kyle would hug somebody, he hugged them like it mattered. Because to him, it did. You know they mattered. And so I guess that's why everybody thought those hugs were so special."
As a way to honor Kyle’s memory, his family started the Kyle Vosberg Bear Hug Scholarship in 2016 for Potosi graduating seniors planning to pursue a college certificate or degree. There is no grade point minimum requirement for the scholarship; they look for a student who exemplifies Kyle’s heart of gold and his willingness to help others.
Kyle’s community also rallied around his family after his passing. The city of Potosi renamed its annual Christmas tree “Kyle’s Tree” in his honor. Community members donate money for strands of lights or lighted presents that surround the tree, and all proceeds from the tree go to local families in need.
When Kyle renewed his driver's license, just 4 months prior to his tragic death, he made the decision to be a donor. Kyle's generous and beautiful spirit lives on in the countless lives he saved through eye, organ and tissue donation.
Zade Groenendyk (Jun 28, 2002 - Jul 26, 2017)
On July 26, 2017, Michael Groenendyk and Teri Morgan were faced with an unimaginable tragedy when their 15-year-old son Zade died tragically in an ATV accident at his home near Bussey, Iowa. Zade left behind his mother, father, step-father, a full sister, and four step-sisters. However, to Zade all of his siblings were just his sisters, and his step-father was dad. His mom shared that the word step-family was just not part of Zade’s vocabulary, and that family was everything to him.
Zade was also very passionate about school, sports, and helping others. He attended Twin Cedars School where he enjoyed playing baseball and football. Teri said that although he wasn’t a natural athlete, he always gave everything he had. Zade was an excellent student, and was part of the Talented and Gifted program as well as on the Honor Roll.
Just three weeks before the accident, Teri’s husband Tom took Zade to get his driver’s permit. As part of his caring and compassionate personality, Zade proudly decided on his own to become an eye, organ, and tissue donor. No one could have expected that he would be a donor so soon after joining the registry.
One of Zade’s corneas was gifted to a 57-year-old woman with Down syndrome named Kelly. Three weeks after her surgery, Kelly’s family sent a thank you card to Zade’s family expressing their gratitude for his selfless gift of sight to their sister. They shared that Kelly was more talkative than ever on her way home from her surgery, and was so excited to be able to see things out of the car window so clearly.
Zade’s family was thrilled to receive a card from the recipient, and promptly wrote them back. Teri said that Zade would have been so happy to know that he improved the life of someone else, and that it also helped them through the grieving process to know that Zade still lives on and continues to improve the lives of others.
Dwight R. Norris (Feb 24, 1945 - Jul 31, 2017)
Dwight R. Norris, 72, was a longtime resident of Iowa City, IA. Dwight was happily married to his high school sweetheart for 52 years. The couple had two children and several grandchildren. Dwight owned and operated RM Boggs Co. Mechanical Contracting for several years before retiring in 2008. In retirement, he enjoyed working in and perfecting his yard and was very talented in drawing. He thoroughly enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren and taking them on many vacations around the country. Dwight attended all of his grandchildren's activities and he was proud to be their biggest fan. He was always teaching them something and making sure they would grow up to be good, respectable citizens.
During his lifetime, organ donation was very important to Dwight--several members of his family had been positively impacted by donation. His younger brother was a cornea transplant recipient and other family members who had received organ transplants were able to live longer, healthier and happier lives as a result. At the time of his death, Dwight gifted his corneas for transplant and two people with seriously impaired vision received the gift of restored or enhanced sight.
Dwight is pictured with his loving wife and oldest grandson.
Mathew Manning (Nov 28, 1980 - Dec 05, 2015)
Mathew Manning was a beautiful person, inside and out. Mat was very close to his family and collected many lifelong friends. Growing up, he was the youngest of four children, with three older sisters who loved, adored, protected and spoiled him. As an adult, Mat was an enthusiastic outdoorsman and enjoyed hunting, camping and playing golf. His “need for speed” passion was fulfilled by racing four-wheelers and motorcycles. A skilled handyman, he could build and fix anything. Mat enjoyed volunteering for youth wrestling camps.
In a written tribute to Mat, his co-workers from Oakdale Iowa Medical Classification Center recalled his memorable gifts to them; “Gifts of your knowledge, your fist-bump embrace, and the gift of the smiles you left all over the place.”
His wife Katie lovingly remembers his unique marriage proposal and will never forget the look on his face when he first saw her on their wedding day.
Because of Mat’s genuine and caring personality, it was no surprise to his family that he was a registered donor. Always giving the best of himself to others, his loving parents and grandparents understand the impact of his final gifts through cornea and tissue donation.
Mary Lillian Moser (Oct 04, 1940 - Mar 27, 2016)
Mary Moser of Hudson, IA dedicated her life to caring for others and positively touched the lives of many. Mary was a 75-year-old retired nurse; active in the Iowa Nurses Association, she worked at Schoitz Memorial Hospital and later Covenant Medical Center, building a health care career that spanned 39 years. Despite the fact that she had been diagnosed with bilateral macular degeneration, Mary was able to donate her corneas and restored sight to two grateful individuals residing in Utah.
While friends remember her kindness and hospitality, professional acquaintances remember Mary as encouraging, someone who influenced countless Iowa nurses in numerous ways, and a special lady who truly made a difference. She loved visiting family and will always be remembered for the great legacy she left as a nurse, a leader, a mother, a grandmother and a friend.
“Thank you so much for the precious gift you have given me at a difficult time in your life,” reads one cornea recipient’s letter written to Mary’s family. “I wish I could find the words to tell you how much this will change my future and how much it means to me and my family,” writes the 61-year-old grandmother. “Because of my cornea transplant, my future literally looks brighter.”
Trenton Michael Brady (Sep 10, 1999 - Jun 08, 2016)
Trenton Brady was looking forward to his senior year at Newton Senior High School. Trenton loved sports intensely and was always there for his teammates. He was a member of several school teams including football, track & field, weight lifting and rugby. As an avid outdoorsman, he enjoyed fishing, hunting deer, turkey and pheasants, as well as artifact hunting. Trenton had recently completed a Criminal Justice college internship through DMACC and had been accepted into the Fire and Emergency Services Program to begin training as an EMT or fire fighter, with plans to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Trenton was the firstborn of 7 sons in his family and was a natural-born leader, full of life and love for God and family. His desire to be an organ donor was just one example of his selfless attitude toward life. Trenton’s death was tragic and sudden, but his grieving family finds comfort and consolation in knowing that he was able to give of himself through cornea and tissue donation to ensure a better quality of life for others.
David Thorstenson (Aug 14, 1951 - Jan 20, 2017)
My dad was a wonderful man. He worked for 42 years at the same career before retiring. He loved to golf and be outside. He also loves a good Stephen King novel. He was a fantastic man and he is so greatly missed. He had 2 children and 3 young grandchildren.
Colton R. Meyer (Dec 29, 2010 - Dec 05, 2014)
Colton Meyer was born four days after Christmas in 2010. Colton was a beautiful little boy, full of energy, who loved sharing smiles and hugs with everyone he met.
Three-year-old Colton loved dinosaurs and was well-known for “rrrawrrring”--- whether he was just entering a room or playing at the park. He and his older brother Jaxson did everything together, from the time they woke up until the time they went to bed. They ate breakfast together, sat side-by-side on the couch watching “Wild Kratts” on television, played for hours pretending they were Cheetahs, helped with chores, and at bed time, picked out their favorite books they wanted read to them. Like so many little boys his age, Colton’s favorite foods were mac-and-cheese, hot dogs, pancakes and apples.
Colton will forever be missed by his mother Tifany, father Travis, brother Jaxson, and sister Alexis. His giving spirit will forever be appreciated by countless recipients of his gifts, generously given through cornea and tissue donation.
Joel D. Higgins (Feb 19, 1982 - Jun 09, 2014)
After courageously battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia for several years, Joel David Higgins of Ames, IA died at 32 years of age. Music and technology were the center of Joel's young life. After his marriage to Jana in 2010, they realized a deep bond to each other in countless aspects of life. Joel was attentive to the little details of life, loved to make others laugh and was known to all for his patient and kind heart. He had a passion for technology and a constant desire to learn. While working as a Systems Support Specialist for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University from 2010 until 2014, Joel found enjoyment in taking photographs on campus.
"Joel had an unfailingly positive and selfless attitude when it came to his battle with leukemia and subsequent stem cell and lung transplants. When offered to him, he never hesitated to take part in a medical study and hoped that, through his illness, his doctors would gain knowledge and experience to more effectively treat patients in the future." When Joel died in June of 2014, Jana reaffirmed Joel’s commitment to helping others by donating his eyes to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank for valuable research of blinding eye disease at the University of Iowa.
Danny E. Hunziker (Mar 30, 1953 - Nov 17, 2013)
Danny Hunziker was born in Brookfield, Missouri and was a graduate of Brookfield High School.
Prior to his death in late 2013, Dan was an engineer for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad for 37 years. More than anything, Dan loved spending time with his three children and several grandchildren. He loved to fish as much as he loved to tell fish stories, and frequently shared morning coffee with other retired “railers.” Dan enjoyed building furniture, bird houses and light houses in his workshop. He was an avid collector of Harry Potter items, owning every book and movie, and was also a major fan of Duck Dynasty.
Dan’s wife, Deb, worked in the field of Ophthalmology for several years. As a result, she and Dan had conversations about donation and designated their wishes through the Illinois donor registry. When Dan died at the age of 60, his corneas restored sight to two grateful individuals and his tissues enhanced the lives of many.
Cayd Allen Sapp (Mar 19, 1993 - Apr 14, 2014)
On April 14th of 2014, 21-year-old Cayd Allen Sapp died unexpectedly in the emergency room at a Waterloo hospital. Cayd was a registered donor in Iowa and his grieving parents supported his decision to donate his corneas and tissues to provide sight and enhanced life to others in need.
When talking with Cayd’s mother Leslie about the cornea recipients who benefitted from her son’s generosity, she said, “He had the warmest brown eyes that would melt a stranger’s heart. You could see true sincerity in Cayd’s eyes.” She lovingly described her son as “a very unique, kind, generous, quirky, thoughtful, down-to-earth, handsome young man who loved his large family unconditionally.”
One of Cayd’s cornea recipients is 84-year-old Faye from northeast Iowa. Faye’s vision was deteriorating from an eye disease called Fuch’s Corneal Dystrophy; a progressive corneal disorder characterized by a cloudy waterlogged cornea, painful epithelial blisters, and reduced vision. Just two weeks after her cornea transplant, she wrote a heartfelt thank you note to her young donor’s family through the correspondence program of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, “Your loved one donated a cornea so that I can see! I’m writing to tell you what a wonderful gift that was…My vision had become so poor that I was having difficulty reading, and I love to read. I couldn’t read sheet music very well anymore, so my playing piano at the local nursing home was becoming limited. Now it’s been almost two weeks since my surgery and every day my vision improves. The grass has never seemed so green! I am so pleased and appreciative.”
When responding to Cayd’s grateful cornea recipient a few months later, Leslie wrote, “I would first like to tell you how much it meant to me to receive your card. It truly comforted my hurting soul and made my heart smile…Cayd loved music, all types of music; I believe that was his way of relaxing. Cayd’s final gift was to help others and I am so proud of the choice he made in life; it speaks volumes of exactly who my son was…I am very, very happy that my son helped change your life in such a powerful way…I wish you further improvement for your vision and joy while playing beautiful music.”
David E. McCue (Nov 16, 1974 - Nov 26, 2013)
David E. McCue lived his entire life in a small town community in southwest Iowa. He celebrated his 39th birthday just one month before his tragic death. David enjoyed working on cars, trading and buying vehicles, and riding his Harley. As a young boy, he loved spending time with his grandparents—camping, fishing and playing games. He enjoyed swimming at the Shenandoah pool where he was affectionately known as “Diamond Dave”. He was currently working for a redemption center in Red Oak and was an avid Iowa Hawkeye fan. His mother fondly remembers that “he always had a smile on his face”. David was a kind person who was forever willing to help others; even to the level of helping countless people after his death through cornea and tissue donation. “What a gift you were, what a gift you gave” will be inscribed on his memorial paver within the Iowa Lions Donor Memorial & Healing Garden at UIHC; purchased with funds raised by his friends and family, to be dedicated at the Annual Dedication Ceremony in October of 2015.
Destiny Suing (Oct 20, 1995 - Nov 30, 2013)
Destiny Suing of Yankton, South Dakota, was a beautiful 18 year old young woman with a smile that could light up a room and a personality that no one could walk away from. Her grieving mother refers to her as “a social butterfly who became a friend to everyone she met”. As a child, Destiny loved “storm watching” with her grandfather, and considered her sister her best friend. She had a special love for all animals, especially horses. Destiny’s greatest achievement in life was as mother to her infant son Xaden, born just nine months before her tragic death. Her loving and nurturing nature continued after death as a cornea and tissue donor.
Only a few weeks after receiving the Gift of Sight through a cornea transplant, 53 year old recipient David from southwest Iowa wrote the following in a heartfelt letter to Destiny’s family: “Your family and your loved one must be very special and caring people. Since my transplant, I can see better out of my eye than I ever have before. I can keep my job that I love and continue to support my family of six wonderful children. On Christmas Eve, 2013, I said a special prayer for your family and my donor…Thank you with all my heart”.
Joe Donohoe (Mar 04, 1952 - Jun 07, 2009)
Joe was a remarkable man, wise and loving. He enjoyed Frisbee golf and was an avid Hawkeye fan. Throughout his battle with cancer he never lost hope and never showed fear. He continues to be his daughters' hero.
Mary Jo Hagedorn-Reed (Dec 01, 1936 - May 20, 2013)
Mary Jo Hagedorn Reed resided in Urbandale, IA with her loving husband. From dawn to dusk her life was about giving, and that generosity was also exemplified in death; Mary Jo donated her eyes to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, providing the Gift of Answers through valuable research of blinding eye disease.
For 37 years, Mary Jo served as Executive Secretary to the State Director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development-Federal Housing Administration, receiving numerous awards for her excellent service. She was a woman of deep faith, interested in and committed to causes of justice and peace. Always ready to offer an encouraging or consoling word and to lend a helping hand to anyone in need, Mary Jo endeared herself to all who met her. She especially enjoyed spending quality time with family and friends.
The following verse was taken from a poem written by her loving sister in the months following their family’s loss:
“She learned love in mother’s arms,
She learned love at father’s knee.
Our dear Mary Jo learned so well,
Her life became love for all to see...”