The Gift of Sight: Cornea Transplants

From Living Healthy Chicago

Thanks to a stranger's gift, Sarah Mittler now sees life from a whole new perspective.
Sarah Mittler was preparing her home for Memorial Day weekend several years ago when she noticed the clock in her kitchen was dirty. She scrubbed the clock and when that didn’t work, even asked her husband if they could install better lighting in the home. What Sarah didn’t realize was that the clock wasn’t the problem. The problem was her vision.

Doctors diagnosed Sarah with Fuchs’ dystrophy, defined by the Mayo Clinic as an uncommon, slowly progressive disorder that affects the cornea. Excess fluid builds up in the cornea making it difficult or even impossible to see. For Sarah, a mother of five busy children, the effects were devastating.

“I was losing my ability to be what I wanted to be for my whole life … a wife and a mother,” she says.

Unable to perform daily tasks like cook for her family, read, and drive, Sarah felt her identity was slowly slipping away.

Just when Sarah surrendered to the fact that she may never regain her sight, a specialist delivered some unexpected news.

“He said, ‘This is easy! We can do a cornea transplant,’” she says.

Charles Bouchard, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at Loyola University, says the surgery can be performed in under an hour. During surgery, doctors make an incision in the cornea and replace damaged tissue with that of a donor. For Sarah, the results were almost immediate. When she went home and took the patch off her eye she saw a sight she hadn’t seen in a long time: the faces of her five children.

But Sarah’s experience did not stop there. She began to think more about the donor who made this gift possible. Since then, she has made it her mission to bring support and bring awareness to the Illinois Eye Bank and the gift of organ donation.

“[The donors] gave me back my life, you know?” she says. “They gave me my family back. I mean thank you, you know it doesn’t even seem like enough of a word.”

If you’d like more information on Fuchs’ dystrophy, the Illinois Eye Bank, or how to become a donor, please visit the sights below: