In the past, when Nancy Bommer sewed the tiny stitches on the quilts she loved to make, she never thought about the blessing it was to see so well.
Then Nancy turned 40 and the way she saw everything changed dramatically. “On eye charts, the only letter I could see was the big E. Things weren’t sharp anymore. I was struggling to see the clasp on my jewelry or to pluck my eyebrows, even with magnification.” Driving became very difficult. Eventually she could no longer see to quilt. For 10 years, doctors near Nancy’s home in Wagener, S.C., and in Georgia asked about her family history and ran tests. They checked her eye pressure, checked for glaucoma and for macular degeneration. Finally, Nancy was diagnosed. She had Fuch’s Dystrophy – a slowly progressing disease that usually affects both eyes but rarely impacts vision until people reach their 50s and 60s. Nancy was told that it was time for cornea transplantation.
Dr. Rick Milne would transplant a donated cornea in each of her eyes, one month apart. Ironically, Nancy’s first transplant on her right eye was during National Eye Donor Month in 2007. The first thing she saw when the bandage was removed? “Clarity! No blurriness, no pain, no floaters. I just had clear vision. I don’t recall that I ever saw that bright in my life. And I can still see the smile on Dr. Milne’s face as he said, ‘You just made my day,’ and I replied, ‘No, you just made mine!’”
After Nancy opened her eyes that March 21, and again one month later following her left cornea transplant, she also got clarity about life. “I was never blind, but I used to have an impaired quality of life; now I have exuberance for living.”
“I can see details that I only heard about from my husband, Wes. He’s a beekeeper. Now I can see the tiny pollen baskets on a bee. It’s exciting to see all the different colors and hues in flowers and how light hits them, to see the feathers in birds and the details in butterflies.” Nancy explains, “My life is a lot like the metamorphosis of the butterfly. I came out of the cocoon and began to have life and flutter around to see what this big universe has in it.”
As a volunteer with LifePoint, Inc., South Carolina’s organ procurement organization, and Donate Life South Carolina, Nancy is intent on “giving back and educating people about registering to be donors.” She speaks to hospital professionals, prisoners, Rotary and Lions Club members, Al Anon family groups and television audiences. “It’s humbling to be able to do what I can do.”
Nancy talks about receiving a phone call from the granddaughter of her right cornea donor. “It was very emotional. I felt guilty because someone who that woman loved had to die for me to get this gift of sight. Like me, my donor had grandchildren. Like me, he was an outdoor person who loved gardening. He loved to fish and I live on a lake. I think God has a plan.”
“Since my cornea transplants, things in my life are more exciting, more rewarding. I have so many opportunities. The things I love and enjoy are possible again. I love seeing an impressive sunrise over the lake and I’ve watched a pair of pileated woodpeckers mating. It was a gift to be able to see that.”
Now that Nancy’s vision is 20/20, what is she still hoping to see? “Every state in this country that I haven’t traveled to, especially Hawaii, the beaches and flowers there, the wild orchids.” Nancy is thrilled to be quilting again, admiring the colors and patterns in the fabrics, and teaching other people to quilt. She has made quilts for all of her grandchildren and they are asking for more. She recently created a new quilt for LifePoint. “It’s a story quilt of the people in South Carolina who wanted to give and were able to give their organs and tissues for transplant.” Each square in the quilt was made by a donor’s loved ones. Nancy displays the donor quilt she created for Lifepoint.
Although Nancy signed up as a donor when she was 20 years old, things are much clearer to her now. “I don’t think I ever understood donation until I became a recipient. It is a gift to see those little things I took for granted that are now a blessing.”