Cornea Recipients

Please tell your loved one,
"They closed your eyes, but you opened mine."

Corneal transplant recipients are incredibly grateful for receiving the precious gift of sight. When vision is lost or diminished, every aspect of life is affected and quality of life is reduced. A thankful recipient once said, “For so long, I couldn’t look forward to the future because I couldn’t see the present.” Often, when recipients regain their sight, they rediscover an appreciation for the simplest of images. The Iowa Lions Eye Bank is dedicated to providing the highest quality of corneas for their surgeon’s transplant recipients. In addition, the eye bank is committed to distributing the following information, education and personal accounts from those grateful recipients willing to share the successes of their corneal transplants. For more information, please contact Debra Schuett, Family Services Coordinator.


Someone once said, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” As Family Services Coordinator for the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, it has been my personal experience to communicate with many donor families who have received a heartfelt “thank you” note from a recipient of their loved one’s cornea, sometimes within a week or two of the donor’s death. While still in the midst of their grief, they find comfort and reassurance regarding the decision to donate to help someone, a sense of peace in knowing that their loved one’s legacy lives on through the gift of sight to another, and verification that their loved one’s final gift was indeed received and appreciated by the recipient.

For many years, the eye bank has facilitated written communication between donor family members and cornea transplant recipients, maintaining a policy that respects and advocates anonymity for all concerned. The Family Services Coordinator serves as “the-go-between” to encourage, receive, track and forward all written correspondence. In April of 2010, the Iowa Lions Eye Bank launched a new program, implemented through the Family Services Program, with a goal of providing more immediate information and materials to cornea recipients when saying “thank you” to their donor’s family. The desired outcome of the program was to facilitate more immediate notes of appreciation written and sent by the recipients, directed to the donor’s family.

With this successful program, “Gratitude is the Best Attitude” packets are enclosed with the surgeon’s paperwork and sent with the cornea designated for the patient’s transplant. Attached instructions direct the corneal surgeon to present the packet to the recipient on the day of surgery. Contents of the packet include a unique blank note card and various materials that strongly encourage and instruct the recipient’s timely expression of gratitude to the donor’s family for the gift of sight they have just received. Also included, is a personal letter from Dr. Kenneth Goins, corneal surgeon at UI Hospitals and Clinics and Medical Director of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, to all cornea recipients: “Through the process of corneal transplantation, you have been given the ‘GIFT’ of sight by the ‘GRACE’ of God, and I am writing this letter to encourage you to show your ‘GRATITUDE’ by writing a ‘thank you’ note to the family of the donor.”

Superheroes save man’s eyesight

Phil Hester draws superheroes for a living, but little did he know that he would one day need two superheroes to restore his sight. “Eyesight is important to everyone,” says Phil. “But as an artist, it’s an integral part of my identity.”

For the past 30 years, Phil Hester of North English, Iowa has worked as a professional comic book artist. He has written and drawn comics for hundreds of publications and his artwork has been featured in popular titles such as Green Arrow, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, Ant-Man, The Flash, Batman Beyond, and more.

In 2015, shortly after being diagnosed with a cardiac condition, Phil began having difficulty seeing his drawing board. His eyesight was foggy in the mornings and he noticed more glare coming from light fixtures. “I just figured it was one of the side effects of the new blood pressure medication I was taking,” says Phil.

As time went on, it became increasingly difficult for Phil to complete his artwork. A page of comic art that would typically take Phil a day to finish now took him two and a half days. He also had to frequently redraw his work.

Then, during a routine visit to the optometrist to check his prescription, Phil was told he was showing signs of Fuchs’ Dystrophy, a progressive corneal disease causing vision loss.

The prospect of losing his vision terrified Phil. “Drawing is not only how I express myself, it’s also how I provide for my family,” he says.

Phil’s optometrist referred him to Dr. Kenneth Goins, an ophthalmologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), who officially diagnosed Phil with Fuchs’ Dystrophy. Dr. Goins explained that Phil’s disease was progressing rapidly - his corneas had severe edema and an abundance of guttata. When Dr. Goins told Phil he needed a corneal transplant, Phil didn’t hesitate.

“Everyone at the UIHC Cornea Clinic is on top of their game, so I had no fears about going into surgery. I was so anxious for relief; I was just thankful there was a solution,” says Phil.

Just days after his surgery, Phil began seeing better. “I was surprised at what an improvement I noticed in such a short period of time,” he says. “I was so excited, I started drawing right away.”

That’s not all Phil did to celebrate his successful transplants – he also wrote thank you notes to the superheroes that restored his sight – the families of his cornea donors.

“Writing these notes was so difficult for me,” Phil says. “I was at a loss to explain how much this whole experience has meant to me and how thankful I am to be able to see again. It’s almost impossible to express your gratitude.”

The Iowa Lions Eye Bank has a Family Services Program that assists cornea recipients who wish to communicate with their donor families. “So many of our grateful recipients choose to write thank you notes to their donor families, but it’s a very personal decision,” says Debra Schuett, Family Services Coordinator at the Iowa Lions Eye Bank. “Phil’s letters were sincere, from the heart and well-written. I can only imagine the positive impact they had on the grieving family members of his selfless donors.”

Today, Phil can now see clearly out of both eyes. In late January 2017, he had a follow up visit at the UIHC Cornea Clinic. Dr. Goins is very pleased with his progress and is optimistic the corneal grafts will be effective for years to come.

Phil is grateful every day to his donors, the staff at the UIHC Ophthalmology Department, and the Iowa Lions Eye Bank for making his sight restoration possible. He also believes that receiving the cornea transplants has changed the way he thinks about his artwork.

“I feel a sense of obligation to make the most out of the gifts I’ve been given by my donors,” says Phil. “I’ve always loved what I do, but now, I never have a day where I don’t want to work – I’m always eager to get started because I know what a precious gift that I have been given.”


On May 25, 2017, Phil will share his story as a keynote speaker at the Celebration of Hope and Renewal, an annual event hosted by the Iowa Lions Eye Bank at the Iowa Lions Donor Memorial & Healing Garden, located across from the main entrance at UIHC.

Dan Sorensen

48 year old Dan Sorensen from Utah received the Gift of Sight on March 10th of this year (2015). “Because of the donor and your (Iowa Lions Eye Bank) organization, what could have been a tragedy has become a miracle for me. I have often thought of soldiers who have given their lives that I can have freedom. I marvel at the gift and service that a donor makes when they give themselves that others may see and live.”

Dan received his Gift of Sight through the generosity of a 52 year old lady from eastern Iowa; described by her family as a “hard working Jack-of-all-trades” and who many considered “Mom” because of her kindness and love for everyone. Through the “Gratitude is the Best Attitude” correspondence program of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, Dan was encouraged to write a “thank you” note to his donor’s family. “I wish you could see how touched my family has been for this gift and how much we appreciate your family and family member.” This extreme gratefulness became evident when Dan included hand-made, hand-written notes of thanks to the donor’s family from his wife and three children within the envelope containing his own heartfelt words of gratitude, mailed to the eye bank just 2 weeks after his successful cornea transplant…

Please view and read their thank you notes below

Note from Dan's 11 yr old daughter

For more information please contact: Debra Schuett, Family Services Coordinator