Submitted by Joy Fragola
When I was first approached to work at Southern Eye Bank, 15 years ago, I had to ask, “What is an eye bank?” Throughout the years of working in the eye banking community, the best definition of an eye bank was demonstrated this year at the 2019 EBAA conference in June.
Eye banks have a mission to save and restore sight through corneal recovery and transplantation. That is the basic definition. The complete definition includes building community, caring for our donor families and recipients, clinical excellence and innovation, and working collaboratively to support organ, eye, and tissue donation.
This year, as the recipient of the Patricia Aiken-O’Neill scholarship I saw first-hand how eye banks across the country work together to achieve individual and collective goals.
Lafayette, Louisiana is the home of my satellite office of Southern Eye Bank. While connected to our SEB team, this location has necessitated a standard of individual work and focus that may not be present in a central office.
To be an active part of a large group of people working together for a common goal was a true gift. I was introduced to people who share a passion for helping others and who possess the willingness to share knowledge, insight, and best practices.
Attending the conference was so much more than just a learning experience. It helped me connect to others in a way not possible from a distance. It gave me contacts and offers of support that were unavailable or rather, unknown before. It offered me the opportunity to co-present at a break-out session on collaboration with our OPO that I helped author. It gave me the chance to hear experts on relationship building, media exposure, and creating a culture that supports our mission and our goals.
When we share information about corneal donation, we tell people that donation will affect us all. We share that donation will become part of our individual and collective story, changing the world one person at a time. And it is true. At every presentation offered, whether to nurses, students, or community, there is someone who has been affected by donation. We all have a story to share, a connection that speaks from our heart and holds hope of a better future because of donation.
The story I most often share when speaking about donation belongs to my brother Michael. While in his early 50s Michael was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After several years of treatments, remissions, and reoccurrences, Michael left upstate New York for Houston and a clinic that specializes in genetic treatments for brain cancer. While there, Michael had a heart attack and died. His corneas gave sight to two people in Egypt, a country of sunshine, pyramids, and sand, and often considered to be the cradle of civilization. Michael was kind, funny, iconoclastic, energetic, generous, and focused. He was also a professional photographer. Although I expect that we will never meet his recipients, whenever I speak about Michael and his gift, I still see sunshine. And I smile.
So, while I know that all we say about donation is true personally and professionally, attending this conference let me experience this as a collective truth. To see the number of people attending, to feel the energy that surrounded the conference, and to hear the stories and experiences that were shared, reaffirmed for me that the impact of an eye bank is more than the gift of sight. Eye banks help the people of the world connect one-to-one and truly offer a positive focus through loss. I am honored to be even a small part of this community.
Thank you for this opportunity and this gift.