In humans, the cornea has a diameter of about 11.5 mm or similar to the size of a penny. It is difficult to imagine that something of such a trivial size, if damaged, can have such a devastating impact on one’s quality of life. In fact, the majority of us go about our daily lives not even acknowledging its existence. Florentino Ramos of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is not one of those individuals. Today, Florentino is achieving goals he never thought attainable and is preparing to be married in June. But prior to his corneal transplant, he was assured by doctors everywhere that he would be permanently blind by adulthood.
Since the young age of three, Florentino had suffered corneal opacity and corneal scarring. To put it plainly, he was living his entire life virtually blind in his left eye and with impaired vision in his right. His mother and sister took him all over Mexico City to specialists and even witch doctors to find a solution to his diminishing sight. “The doctors told my sister the witch doctors’ remedies made things even worse … I didn’t think that was possible.”
By the age of seven, every specialist he visited told him he would “never see again.” To protect Florentino, his mother pulled him out of school to avoid the ridicule by the other children. “They used to tease me because I would sit right in front of the board to see what my teacher was writing. It was horrible and I was very lonely.” The reserved Florentino gave up completely in finding friends or comrades to spend time with. Instead, he stayed back and did what limited learning he could from home.
In 1996, by the age of 10, Florentino moved to the United States and again began his search for a diagnosis that did not end with “losing all vision by the age of 25.” He traveled to Florida, Ohio and Indiana where every specialist labeled his case “hopeless,” and that even if he qualified for a corneal transplant, he “would never be able to afford it.”
After he finally relocated to Chambersburg, Florentino sought out an ophthalmologist as he had lost the hard contact in his right eye and needed a new prescription. As luck would have it, he visited the office of Dr. David Armesto and was stunned when the doctor explained to him that not only did he qualify for a transplant, but that he would be able to obtain and afford the transplant through the Northeast Pennsylvania Lions Eye Bank. The doctor told Florentino that it was customary for the Eye Bank to provide “gratis tissue” for hardship cases.
Florentino and fiancé Inelda will be married in June of this year. Florentino underwent transplant surgery in July of 2011 and experienced success. He boasted thereafter, “now that my eyesight is restored, I am not afraid anymore; not afraid to do anything.” Since his corneal “blessing,” the 26-year-old regained his quality of life and began reaching for the stars. He said, “I began focusing on every detail of every face and everything I saw both close and far away … I drove for the first time and screamed the entire way because I was so thrilled to be able to see and finally drive a car.”
Florentino is now a chef at a local restaurant, moonlights as a disc jockey, maintains an active lifestyle through his church family, has discovered the joys of reading without discomfort and was able to find love and start a life with fiancé, Inelda. He wrote the Northeast Pennsylvania Lions Eye Bank following his surgery saying “since I was little I have been praying and waiting for my cornea….and because of your generosity you have inspired me to want to help other in need.”