Mid-America Transplant raises awareness for Eye Donation Month
Every September and December, Sharon Bushey counts her blessings and thanks not one, but two donor families who gave her the gift of sight through cornea donation. “They really did give my life back to me,” she says. “I can never get through those months without thinking of my donor families.”
Bushey had trouble with her eyes starting from the age of 16 but it wasn’t until her late 20s that she was diagnosed with keratoconus, an eye disease that affects the structure of the cornea, resulting in total loss of vision. Bushey’s case, and so many others like it, highlight the reasons why Eye Donation Month, commemorated every November in conjunction with the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA), is so critical for raising awareness about cornea donation and transplantation. Eye Donation Month began in 1983 and is an opportunity to put a spotlight on the 12 million people worldwide suffering from a type of blindness that can be restored with a corneal transplant.
What is Eye Donation Month?
The purpose of Eye Donation Month is to celebrate cornea transplant recipients, like Bushey, living their fullest lives thanks to the generosity of donors, to honor the gift of sight given by selfless donors and their families, and to educate the public about eye donation by encouraging individuals to register as organ, eye and tissue donors. You can join the registry here.
Because her condition worsened, Bushey would have remained blind without a double cornea transplant. “At first they were able to take care of it with hard contact lenses but 10 years later, I woke up with extreme pain and my cornea specialist told me to get to the hospital. The contact had worn a hole through five layers of my cornea and I was within hours of losing my eye,” she says. “I had to stop wearing contact lenses because the pressure was so low in my eyes. Overnight, I went from being a very busy pastor’s wife to legally blind and unable to do my own laundry, go shopping, drive, or play the organ at church. I lived that way for nine months before I got the news that my first cornea had become available for transplant.”
“Over 34 and 35 years ago, two families gave me the gift of sight at the times of their loss. My transplants were successful. So successful in fact that everything I accomplished in my life after that is a gift from my donor families. I went back to college as an adult and got my teaching degree. I was a schoolteacher before later becoming a counselor. I then earned my master’s degree to teach psychology at the college level for 17 years. And I’m still involved in my grandkids’ lives. So, I’m extremely grateful,” she says.
When is cornea donation necessary?
The cornea is the clear dome-like window covering the front of the eye that allows light to pass through to the retina and enables people to see. Corneal transplants restore sight to those suffering from vision loss that is mainly caused by trauma or infection to the cornea, keratoconus (cornea becomes cone-shaped), Fuch’s Dystrophy, Pseudophakic Bullous Keratopathy, corneal degeneration, and other cornea infections. Oftentimes, like in Bushey’s case, there isn’t anything left to do to restore the eyesight once all other measures have been taken, and a transplant becomes the only way for recipients to regain their vision.
Eye Donation Month highlights need for corneal transplants
Donate Life reports that more than 1.8 million men, women, and children worldwide have had their sight restored through corneal transplantation since 1961. And the EBAA notes more than 84,000 donors help to restore sight each year. More than 95 percent of all corneal transplant operations successfully restore the cornea recipient’s vision. That statistic now includes Bushey.
Become a donor and provide hope to those waiting
Donation helps restore health, sight, and mobility. Consider providing hope to the more than 100,000 people awaiting lifesaving organ transplants and the hundreds of thousands more in need of corneal and tissue transplants, like Bushey.
“Those families gave my life back to me. They are thought of and prayed for every year since those gifts were given to me and I am so thankful for their love. Especially during a time when they were in so much grief and sorrow, they had the courage to think of someone else and I am just extremely grateful,” Bushey says.
By registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor, you can bring hope to patients and families who are holding out for a miracle. Sign up for the donor registry and increase the chance that patients waiting will get the transplants they need to survive.