About eighteen months ago I had an incident, while on a cruise, that ended up with my eyesight in my right eye being permanently diminished. It started with taking a contact out of my eye, and ending up with a whale of an eye infection. It involved a medication being administered that I am allergic to, and yes, I told them, and no, I didn't notice, and used it anyway, over and over, until it was brought to my attention four days later, when the damage was done.
Bottom line, it's complicated - too complicated to hold anyone responsible, and the laws weren't in our favor (be warned next time you go on a cruise!) (and yes, we've gone on a cruise since then but I took a whole bag of medications!). The cruise company wasn't liable, the doctors could have been but it would have been very messy to try to track down, and I can't - in all good conscience - say that it was 100% their fault and not mine.
I just wanted to be able to see again. If I was 90 I might not have been so adamant about this, but since I was 58 when it happened it seemed a good thing to pursue restoring my vision if possible.
Two weeks before my transplant, when I visited the doctor to set it up, I asked them about the specifics of how my cornea would be obtained. They told me cornea transplants are a very common procedure, but they don't store well, so they have to be a very recent donation. The weekend before my transplant I was struck that someone was going to lose their life, not so I could get a cornea, but still that was what would have to happen.
The day after my transplant, once I was off pain meds that made me want to crawl into a hole, I was very aware that someone, somewhere, was planning a funeral, grieving their loss. That night I fell asleep thinking about the fact that a part of someone else's body was in mine. I was literally seeing through part of their vision. Not that I could see at that point, but still.
When I had the transplant, the surgical unit gave me a card with a number on it. My cornea had a number and I could write a thank you note that would be sent to the family of the donor. They gave me guidelines of what to say and what to not. They will not be given my last name, unless they ask. I gave permission for them to contact me, meet me, whatever they chose. I cannot ask to meet them.
So here's my letter:
To the family of my cornea tissue donor:
This is not an easy letter to write, but I want to thank you for the gift your family gave me.
I am 60 years old, married with three grown children and eight grandchildren. They range in age from barely a toddler to barely a teenager.
Two years ago I injured my right eye while on a cruise ship, and the doctor made a mistake and prescribed a medication I was allergic to. By the time we realized what had happened it was too late to reverse the permanent damage to my eye. I could no longer see clearly and could not tolerate light in my eye. Driving became difficult, I was reading with one eye, and many of the things in life that I enjoyed before became difficult or impossible.
I did not realize there was a chance to repair this damage until my doctor made me aware that family members would donate corneas from their loved ones, and my vision could possibly be restored through transplant surgery.
After having gone almost two years with very limited vision, I am now two weeks past the surgery, and already I can see so much more clearly. The doctor tells me my vision should continue to improve as my eye heals, and hopefully within 9 – 12 months I should be able to have my vision restored if all goes well. Having been someone who, like most other people, took my vision for granted, I cannot begin to tell you how truly miraculous it feels to be able to see again. To know that for the rest of my life I will be able to drive more safely, to read more easily and to see clearly the face of all those I love and hold dear because of your gift.
In the days before my transplant I asked the doctor’s office how my cornea would be obtained. They told me it would be from a recent donor, and that weighed very heavily on my mind, knowing that for me to re-receive my sight someone would be losing their life, and their loved ones would be grieving their loss. So I have prayed for you and your family, for comfort and healing. I am so grateful to have my vision restored, and grateful that your family made the generous decision to donate so I could have this done. I know that your loved one lives on through my sight, and I will try to honor that as best as I can.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart,
Wife, mother, Grammy to 8
As people have asked me how my eye is doing, can I see yet?, etc. I have tried to describe to them what it feels like to be born seeing, lose vision in my eye, and then begin to see again. It takes my breath away. I find myself shutting my right eye, then opening it, as a test to see what I can see. While you wouldn't want me driving down the streets with just the vision in my right eye, it is indescribable how it feels to see definition again - limbs of trees with leaves changing, my husband's eyes, spaghetti on a plate, raindrops on the window screen. I'm thankful that I can truly say I don't take my eyesight for granted. I once did. I don't anymore.
I haven't worn eye makeup for the past 18 months and don't see it in my near future, but at some point I'll get to go celebrate and buy a tube of mascara, and maybe even eye liner. First, I have two years of steroid drops and that just doesn't work very well with eye makeup.
I've had a few people - who did about the same as I did in biology, apparently - ask if my eyes are still both the same color. Corneas are clear, so both of my eyes are still brown :-)
Cub Sweetheart and I have both been signed up as donors for years and years. If you aren't, maybe it's something you'd consider the next time you renew your driver's license. There's nothing on this body of mine that I'm going to need in heaven, so it might as well bless someone else. You can read more about it HERE. Life is short and fragile and today is a gift. Tomorrow could be a gift to someone else.
For me, life feels different, knowing a part of someone else is living on through me. It makes me want to look harder, live fuller, celebrate, hug, smile, laugh - all the good stuff that ended for that person who donated to me. How often in life do we get to see life in a brand new light? I'm feeling blessed because I do.