National Minority Donor Awareness Month

August is National Minority Donor Awareness Month (NMDAM). Its purpose is to save and improve the quality of life for diverse communities by creating a positive culture for eye, organ, and tissue donation.

This year marks the 25th year of NMDAM and its efforts to:

  • Educate about eye, organ, and tissue donation and transplantation
  • Encourage donor registration and family conversations about donation
  • Promote healthy living and disease prevention to decrease the need for transplantation

Highlighting EBAA’s mission to #RestoreSight worldwide, here are a few stories of hope from members of minority communities, showcasing the transformative nature of cornea donation, the selflessness of being a donor, and why it’s so important to register and make your family members aware of your wishes.

Tamika McClaine

Donor Family Member
Saving Sight

In November of 2018, Tamika’s mother, Barb became an eye and tissue donor at the University of Kansas Hospital.

After her mother’s passing and donation, Tamika began an effort to spread awareness of donation, using the hashtag #LiveLikeBarb. She wanted others to understand how her mother lived with joy and gratitude, even while dealing with congestive heart failure, and the incredible gift she gave to others as a donor. Tamika had buttons designed with her mother’s image and the hashtag, which she distributes to others to wear as a reminder of Barb’s passion for donation.

Prior to her passing, Barb always let her wishes about donation known to her family, saying, “you can’t take it with you…” Tamika now considers it her life’s work to share her mother’s story and educate about donation. She says, “There is purpose in loss,” and today she works for Saving Sight, educating the local community about the importance of donation, how it transforms lives, and the mission to #RestoreSight.

Tamika also launched her own blog, The Process, at tamikamclaine.com, to share her perspective and thoughts on loss, grief, and healing.

Cameron Whittle

Cornea Recipient
Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley

Cameron was the “face” of Eye Donation Month in 2018. As the recipient of a corneal donation at 13, the gift of sight has allowed Cameron to live a full live and achieve his dreams.

Prior to his transplant, Cameron’s vision was blurred and out of focus – he was unable to see the world around him, which made him fell disconnected and insecure. Today, he is working towards his goals, attending Goldy-Beacom College pursuing a degree in business along with exploring hobbies like photography!

Estefanía

Cornea Donor

Estefanía, a beautiful 27-year-old woman, was full of life in every way. She loved to practice yoga, read, watch TV shows, and spend time with family and friends. She could turn heads with her outstanding personality, beautiful smile, gorgeous face, and could turn dark days into happy ones.

During her short stay on earth, she lived, laughed, and loved. She found beauty and passion in everything she did and inspired everyone around her. That love and happiness continues to live on as her legacy, and it is beautiful knowing that someone out there is seeing life through her lenses. Giving another human being the opportunity to see the wonders of the world is something Estefanía would have done without hesitation. Her happiness, peace, and serenity demonstrated that she appreciated every aspect, moment, person, and visual in her life.

Dr. Minish Patel

Cornea Recipient
DonateLife Virginia

Dr. Minesh Patel is an accomplished figure in the Richmond area. The co-founder of Ariya Family Chiropractic Center, he owns six offices, scuba dives, bikes, runs, teaches, and parents.

And he does it all thanks to a pair of new eyes.

Going blind at 22
“In 1998, I noticed that my vision was failing,” he said. “My girlfriend at the time saw it first – that I was squinting a lot.”

An eye check revealed more than a basic need for glasses – at the age of 22, Minesh was diagnosed with keratoconus.

His failing vision made school difficult, but contact lenses helped for a while. Minesh graduated in 2003 and started practicing as a chiropractor in 2004. But his eyes kept getting worse. Because keratoconus is degenerative, the contacts don’t help forever, and eventually, a cornea transplant is needed.

For Minesh, “surgery” meant a double transplant – a new cornea for each eye. Minesh had one eye done in early April 2005 and several weeks later, a transplant on the other eye.

No more excuses
A year later, he had full vision again. But it wasn’t just his eyesight that had returned.

“Vision was a gift from two people, and I needed to do something with it,” he said, explaining that the two organ donors who provided his corneas inspired him to start reclaiming his former active lifestyle.

“I decided I was going to run the Ukrops 10K even though it was only a month away and I hadn’t trained,” he said. “I don’t recommend that, but I did it.”

Out of shape, overweight and suffering from high blood pressure, Minesh decided to go for it anyway. He started running and he never looked back.

“Before, I had been making excuses,” he said. “But I had this gift and I needed to go for it.”

He kept running and then started scuba diving and cycling. He also tried tennis again – a sport he had enjoyed before his failing eyes pulled him away.

I’d become the model of health I’d been preaching to my clients,” he said.

Focus => confidence => success
The link between eyesight and business wasn’t something he’d ever thought about before but after living with good vision, poor vision, and then good vision again, Minesh realized how important eyesight is to social interactions.

“Eye contact is so much of our communication and when you feel like you can’t focus on someone’s face or recognize them, it really knocks down your self-confidence,” he said.

His vision restored, both his health and his confidence began to soar.

Minesh expanded his practice and with his wife and business partner, Nisha (remember the girlfriend who’d noticed him squinting in 1998?), he now operates six chiropractic centers and manages more than 30 employees.

They’re also raising two daughters: Laila and Kaya.

Donating life – and sight
“It’s all due,” Minesh said, “to the two people who signed up as organ donors.”

He doesn’t know their names but he knows one was a 21-year-old woman from Northern Virginia and the other was a Southwest Virginia man in his 50s.

“I sent letters and pictures to Old Dominion Eye Foundation,” he said. “”They passed them on to the families of the donors.”

Organ and eye donors give the gift of life and sight, and for Minesh, the gift wasn’t purely for survival, but quality.

“It was a wonderful gift from two individuals,” he said. “It’s made all the difference in my life. You name it, I’ll try it now.”

As for his own status, Minesh said he’s a registered organ donor, but that was true long before he became a recipient.

“Organ donor, bone marrow donor – everything,” he said. “There’s no reason not to do it and it’s such a huge gift.”