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Recipient Stories

Seeing is Believing

“What kind of disability insurance do you have?” That was one of the scariest questions I have ever been asked. I was 36, a full-time registered nurse, divorced mother of two and I was experiencing severe visual problems. My doctor thought I might have to quit my job and go on disability – I said to him, “We cannot have this conversation, we just can’t.”

My vision problems started in 1994. I was originally diagnosed with a corneal abrasion in my right eye. Months went by and I continued to have problems. I was in so much pain that my eyelid would close and I could not make it open, especially in bright lights. I was very scared by what was happening to me.My condition progressed and spread to both eyes and it was clear something more than a corneal abrasion was affecting me. Rosacea led to punctuate areas (tiny punctures) on my corneas, compromising my vision.

Rhonda enjoying Franklin Park Conservatory

My declining vision affected my ability to be a mom. Everyone who has children knows – they have to be places and moms have to drive them there. I had no options but to drive – even with my children – while visually impaired and I prayed we would make each trip safely. I couldn’t read road signs and would “landmark” spots along the way and drive familiar routes. One time, on the way to my daughter’s volleyball match, I ended up in a town 20 miles away and missed the game entirely. I couldn’t see the action during their softball games. After a while even their faces began to blur, and so did my own. At work my sight took me from a nurse who was proud of her technical skills to the “desk nurse,” moving aside while my kind, caring co-workers did the IV’s, catheters, and dressing changes I could no longer do. I had a special computer with a magnifier, and after awhile, even that was hard to see. Colors became hard to distinguish; it was like I was looking thru dirty saran wrap all the time.

I had no choice but to do the best that I could, and then, after nearly 10 years of declining vision, I found hope.

Orchid, Franklin Park Conservatory

Thanks to my donor and the work of Dr. Thomas Mauger at OSU, on September 16, 2003, I received a right cornea transplant. After the surgery, I found myself fascinated by bark on a tree and the brightness of colors. I could see my beautiful daughters – and I was surprised to see how much I aged when I could clearly see my face in the mirror!

My whole world changed, and I couldn’t have asked for more, but in July of 2004 I was given the gift of a left cornea by another heroic donor so I would have binary vision. It has been the greatest gift I could ever receive.

I am now pain free, no longer afraid to drive anywhere and I can do my job properly. I am sharp when reviewing charts and am the “go to” nurse to start IV’s, like I used to be. I was able to see my oldest daughter walk across the stage to accept her high school diploma and I look forward to being there to see my youngest daughter graduate in two years!

I don’t know who my donors were, but I will always be grateful to them, and to their families, who were able to look past their grief and honor their loved one’s request to be a donor. The cornea transplants didn’t save me from death but they gave me back my life and the ability to be a good mom and nurse.

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