Coincidently, the country of Bangladesh is comparable in square miles to the size of Iowa. However, the country is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including cyclones, landslides and earthquakes, and is one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries, with more than 156 million people.
Five-year old, Yesmin, lives with her family in Shariatpur, Bangladesh. Thirty-year old, Shahin, resides in Natore, located in northern Bangladesh. This little girl and young man both live in a country where corneal blindness is widespread and an extreme shortage of eye donations limits the hope for anyone in need of a cornea transplant. Therefore, Yesmin’s family and Shahin realize how fortunate they are to have recently received a sight-restoring gift from a total stranger in a far-away land; a generous man who lived and died in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
According to emails received from Dr. Sarwar Alam, corneal transplant surgeon at the Islamia Eye Hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Yesmin was suffering from a severely infected cornea and was soon to undergo an evisceration; a surgical procedure to remove the contents of her blind and painful eye . On March 16, 2010, she was underwent a cornea transplant and Dr. Sarwar Alam reports, “With the new cornea, her eye is saved!” Shahin had been diagnosed with a perforated bacterial corneal ulcer of his left eye; an extremely painful and sight diminishing condition resulting from loss of the cell layer covering the cornea. His successful transplant occurred on the same day as Yesmin’s, and his vision improves each day as his eye continues the healing process.
Meanwhile, back in Iowa, a loving family mourned the loss of their beloved husband, father and grandfather. Robert was 74 years old when he died on March 5th of this year, described by his wife of 50 years as “a very private man who always wanted to give”.
She was pleased to learn, through contact with the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, that two people in Bangladesh “would get to see through Robert’s eyes” and she hopes for further written contact with them. Robert’s youngest daughter, Miki, also wanted the recipients to know how wonderful her father was. She recently wrote an email to the Family Services Coordinator on behalf of her family, which was then forwarded from our eye bank to the surgeon at the Bangladesh eye health facility, to be shared with the two young recipients: “I know you have received the gift of sight from my father. I know how proud he would be today if he knew who he has helped…He was not only my dad, but he was my best friend. He made us proud to be who we are today…He lived his life to the fullest…He has now touched your life in the only way he could have. He shines down on us every day and I know he smiles for you, too. Congratulations on your sight! He will be terribly missed, but to know that he has helped another in this way, helps ease the pain and makes me even more proud to be his daughter.”
Through donation, Robert provided an incredible gift to others in a country where few are privileged to receive the precious gift of sight. His grieving family in Iowa finds comfort and reassurance in their decision to donate at such a difficult time; providing a legacy for their loved one that has changed the lives of the recipients in Bangladesh forever.