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Celebrating the restoration of sight


“Throw my brain in a hurricane

And the blind can have my eyes

And the deaf can have both of my ears

If they don’t mind the size.”
- John Prine

I wasn’t blind yet when I had cornea transplant surgery in my left eye a couple of weeks ago, but I’m told that would have likely been my eventual fate.

I was diagnosed with Fuch’s dystrophy, which impacts a thin layer of cells that pump fluid to the cornea. The loss of those cells causes fluid to build up on the cornea, leading to cloudy vision and, over time, blisters that can break and become infected.

The surgery to restore that layer of cells truly is a modern miracle. And I’m incredibly grateful to the local doctors who first diagnosed the problem and the surgery team in El Paso. But it’s a miracle that can’t happen without a donated cornea.

I’d like to thank the person whose donation will restore the vision in my left eye. But, of course, I can’t. That’s not possible with posthumous organ donations. Donors trust that their gifts will help others, knowing they will never be thanked for them.

I respect those whose religious beliefs don’t allow for organ donations. For the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to help others in ways that all of the money in the world can’t buy.

In New Mexico, residents can register online through New Mexico Donor Services at donatelifenm.org. It only takes a few minutes, and while you are on that site you can learn more about organ, eye and tissue donations, and read about some of the people who have been helped by them.

According to the group’s website, an average of 20 people die each day while waiting for an organ. Alanna Tootoosis-Baker was nearly one of them. She had decided that she would only stay on respiratory machines for two more weeks while waiting for a lung transplant. She had said her goodbyes to those she loved. Then, on April 19, her husband got the call they had been waiting for.

“It was Easter Sunday that year when I went into surgery,” she said. “Waking up … just being able to breathe on your own, it’s amazing because there was a time I couldn’t.”

I wasn’t able to find current statistics, but information on the state’s Department of Health website showed that in 2014 there were 757 New Mexicans on the waiting list for an organ transplant. For many of the people now on that list, it is literally a race against death.

There will come a time, perhaps in my lifetime, when scientists will find a way to replicate human organs and tissue in the lab. Until then, organ donations are literally the gift of life. Or, in my case, the gift of sight.

I can’t thank my donor, but I do have the opportunity to send a note to his or her family. I’m struggling to find the right words. Everything I’ve come up with so far seems insufficient.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

restoration of sight, transplant surgery, donor