Through the Eyes of a Recipient

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.


* Click photo to view larger size (if larger photo was provided)Stories are ordered by date received

Gift of Sight – July 2018

Debbie Maynor received the precious gift of sight through a cornea transplant on May 31, 2018. Debbie’s cornea was donated by a 68-year-old man from central Iowa. She was so grateful for this life-changing gift she sent this thank you letter to her donor’s family:

Debbie Maynor and family

Dear Donor Family,

I have a hereditary corneal disease called Fuch's Dystrophy which causes the cornea to deteriorate and eventually leads to blindness. The only cure for this progressive eye disease is a cornea transplant. Without the generous gift of a human cornea, this surgery would not be possible. I cannot begin to express how humbling and overwhelming it is to know that my sight is completely dependent upon generosity at a time of such great personal loss and sorrow. There really are not words to describe how much this gift means to me and I will be forever grateful for the chance to see.

I am a 55-year-old woman and work full time at a corporate job. I am married and we have two grown boys and two granddaughters. My husband and I love to go out to dinner and listen to local bands in area parks on the weekends. We enjoy working in the yard and we rescue/adopt English Springer Spaniels….they are our kids now!

I am a member of our church choir and have recently pursued a lifelong dream to take horse riding lessons. I go to the barn a couple of times per week and the lessons are the best part of every week! I also enjoy taking a girl’s trip to Colorado every year. I just love the mountains!

The gift of restored sight is amazing. It allows me to continue to do what I love and begin new chapters in my life. I am able to participate with the next generation of our family. I can remain independent as I go into dark places like movie theaters or drive at night and in the rain. I am able to read and see pictures on my phone and computer. All of these things had become increasingly difficult and would eventually be gone for me.

I am so very sorry for the loss of your loved one and nothing can replace them among all who loved them. I can only imagine how difficult this time is now. Please know that your thoughtfulness allows their beauty to continue in the days and years ahead. I too am now blessed by the life they lived and will never forget this gift and how wonderful it is to be able to see the world again.

Thank you!

Debbie was honored to share her letter and photo with ILEB. She hopes it serves as a reminder for those considering donation at often difficult times and hopes it will also be an encouragement to those facing a transplant surgery, knowing that there is hope for a great outcome!

ILEB is proud to be able to be part of this gift of life story and we thank Debbie for sharing her story.


Heather McKiness

Donor Family,

January 31, 2018, I received the most beautiful gift of sight. Your loved one donated a cornea to me to love and grow, and just one week later, I could see 20/25. Without this, I would be blind in that eye. My mother and grandmother also received cornea transplants. The generations before my grandmother went blind in their 40s, most likely from Fuch’s Dystrophy (discovered through genealogy searching).

My name is Heather and I have been married to my wonderful husband for 26 years. We have one kiddo in college. I didn’t decide my life vocation until I was 39. I went back to school to become a Surgical Technologist...I LOVE MY JOB! We live in the country and enjoy gardening an entire acre of land—canning and freezing all the vegetables we need, with extras to give away to neighbors, co-workers and friends. We made apple cider from our trees last year, and that was fun! We have 2 black and tan coonhounds; our dog children are my constant companions in the yard and my sewing room.

Thank you and I am forever grateful and honored
(and I am also a donor),

--Heather


Les Lipschutz

Donor Family,

I cannot begin to express how sorry I am for the loss of your loved one. Your Gift of Sight through organ donation has truly been received as a miracle for me. I was going blind and was told that I would lose all vision within a year without a cornea transplant.

Today, I can see clearly. I am able to look into the eyes of my wife, my children and my grandchildren. I was able to see the ultrasound photo of my future grandchild.

As a retired teacher and civil war historian, I am an avid reader. But I have not been able to see the words on the pages for almost a year. I could not get my license renewed because I could not see the eye chart. I was not even able to see the beautiful smile on my wife's face.

Restored vision has made everything in my life more meaningful. Please know that your donating to the Gift of Sight has dramatically improved my vision in countless ways. It restored not only my vision but also color, vibrancy, the ability to read again and learn through reading, the ability to use a cell phone, watch a television, see autumn leaves, winter snow and the beautiful colors of spring flowers. By next summer, I hope to again go sailing, kayaking and hiking. These are activities I have not been able to enjoy.

Please know that I will never be able to thank your loved one for this most precious Gift of Sight and there are not enough words to express how thankful I and my entire family are to you and your family. I will take extra special care of this cherished gift and see the world through your loved one's beautiful eyes.

May you and your family know of no more sorrow and may you be blessed with health and blessings.

--Les, Cornea Recipient


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