Growing up in Colorado, my favorite sports were baseball and mountain biking. As most kids do, I dreamt of playing professional sports. Unfortunately, in my senior year of high school, I found it almost impossible to hit the ball and I had difficulty in judging plays in the field. My years of playing ball were over. Prior to my freshman year of college I was diagnosed with bilateral keratoconus. I recall a visit to the “family” eye doctor and the doctor telling my mother that I may have keratoconus. He asked her if anyone in our family was blind. That was a scary conversation for a son soon to be a college freshman!
Over the next 21 years, I struggled with bilateral keratoconus. I wore eye glasses with bifocals during my college years and eventually started wearing hard contacts in my early twenties to correct my vision. As the keratoconus advanced, it became more difficult to keep contacts from popping out resulting in multiple lost contacts.
After years of losing contacts and progressive vision loss in my left eye, it was determined that a corneal transplant was the only means to restore vision in my left eye. At the time, my vision in my left eye was two fingers at approximately four to six inches. In the fall of 1995, Richard Grutzmacker, MD, in Sacramento, CA, completed my first penetrating kerotoplasty corneal transplant. My first transplant was a gift from an 18 year old woman killed in an automobile accident.
Following the transplant, my vision was restored with minor corrections achieved with contacts. On Labor Day 2004, in an effort to miss a rattle snake in my path, I had a severe mountain biking accident in the desert outside Scottsdale, AZ. The accident resulted in the rupture of my left eye, loss of my intraocular lens and complete vision loss. Throughout 2004 and 2005, I worked with Jung Dao, MD, in Phoenix, AZ, to save my eye. In the fall of 2005, I had my second penetrating kerotoplasty corneal transplant and a lens implant. The surgery restored my vision. With the support of contacts, I now have 20/20 vision! My second cornea was a generous gift from a 75 year old man in Phoenix.
In May 2007, I was able to join the tremendous team at Donor Network of Arizona, the Organ Procurement Organization, tissue recovery agency and eye bank for the state. As Director of Tissue Services, I am fortunate to work with highly dedicated staff in the Eye Bank. Due to my vision struggles, I understand the importance of each individual transplant surgery. As a corneal transplant recipient, I like to share my story and how eye donation touches the lives of the recipients and their families. My vision loss limited my ability to participate in many activities. After my transplants, I was able to coach soccer, baseball and basketball with my sons and daughter and I was able to return to mountain biking.
As an eye bank professional, I would like others to know the healing power of organ, tissue and eye donation. Throughout the year, Donor Network of Arizona has multiple donation events to honor the real heroes of donation, the donor families and donors who prior to their death registered to be an organ, tissue and eye donor. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with donor families and find that the generous gift of donation helps them heal and recover from their loss. I’m always amazed how proud families are of their loved one’s generous gift of donation.
I encourage everyone to consider organ, tissue and eye donation and to speak to family and friends about donation.