Karen Neuman (recipient) & Eileen Palecek
A Tribute to Kindness & Memories of Old –
Notecard: “Dear Karen — This is “Hobie” – he came to Omro on a train last week and didn’t know this was the last stop. So, he’s pretty lonesome. Maybe you can keep him company. We are glad to hear you are getting along so good. Everyone says to say, “Hi” to you. We will see you when you get home. Love, Eileen”
Memories: Hobie was given to a 13-year-old girl while in Madison General Hospital in 1969. During her 17 days spent lying quiet and healing after a corneal transplant under the skillful hands of Dr. John V. Berger, Jr., Hobie became a part of her heart. She felt Hobie was an attachment to back home.
As years passed, Hobie was never placed away in a box but always had a place to sit near a window. However, time had erased the memory of who had provided this Dear Hobo. Recently, while cleaning out her storage room, the “Hobie” notecard was found.
Tribute to Kindness: Hobie and I stopped by to visit with Eileen, who is now 94 years of age. Eileen laughed as she read the card written 52 years earlier. “I wonder what people thought?” said Eileen. “Most people get a doll or stuffed animal, but you got a hobo.” Eileen then went on to explain that as a child she had a friend whose father worked at the train depot, and Eileen along with a couple of her childhood friends loved to stop down at the train station and visit with the hoboes. “They always had stories to tell, and there was much laughter. I’m guessing that when I saw this hobo it made me think of how much fun we had.”
I personally wanted to thank Eileen by telling her just how much Hobie had meant to me when I received him at the hospital and how his presence made me feel the love of those back home. The days Hobie and I spent in the hospital are still filled with memories of loving care from my family, and from doctors, nurses, staff members, relatives, friends, and neighbors.
The year 1969 is filled with grateful memories and thankfulness. I was not aware of the role Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin had when I was 13, but years later, I would learn just how much this organization is involved in all aspects of providing for this gift of sight, and I am very grateful.
Corneal transplant recipient, 1969 & 2007
Karen (Gerner) Neuman
Praising our Lord and Savior
On Monday, I had the surgery, and I am currently recovering. After the surgery, I was presented with a booklet from a company that manages cornea donations. In this packet was information about how personal it is to share your story of the transplant with the donor’s family. In order for a cornea to be successfully transplanted, there is a short time between the passing of the donor and the time it is transplanted into the new eye. So, as I read this information about contacting the donor’s family, I knew that the family had just suffered the loss of a loved one. I thought about this quite a bit, and I had a lot of questions about what my new cornea may have seen and who is the person that is generous enough to donate their cornea to help me see again.
I decided to write a letter to the family, and I followed the guidelines from the company. At some point, my letter will be shared with the family. I expressed my gratitude and my sympathies, and I shared my story about why I needed the transplant and how it would impact me and my family. It was an emotional exercise to write this letter to people that I do not know and that have just recently lost a loved one. It is now up to the family if they want to communicate back with me or not. Either way, I will respect their decision. I am left with all of these questions and surprised at how it is impacting me emotionally. There are really good people in the world that want to help other people. With the current events, it can easily be forgotten that people are inherently good.
Thursday, I went in for my follow up appointment. Three days after surgery, my vision has improved to 20 over 125. I am no longer legally blind in my left eye. The surgeon expects that my vision will continue to improve, and he is aiming for me to return to 20/20 vision that I had before the cornea issues. This is remarkable. I am in awe of the progress that has happened so quickly, and I am amazed by the skill of my surgeon. I am eager to see how things continue to improve and where my recovery takes me in my journey of healing.
As I have been moved by this process and I have had time to reflect on many things with the downtime. I have thought about the importance of vision as a leader, and how in the day to day of leading an organization, your vision can get cloudy. It is essential to take time as you are leading to reflect on your vision and do a self-check to make sure that your actions align with your vision. Sometimes as a leader, you may need a cornea transplant to ground yourself in your values, ethics, and provide clarity on how you are living those values to lead your organization. It has become evident to me that vision does not need to be lost, and there are others out there willing to support you and assist you in restoring your vision.
This week has been painful, emotional, and successful. I am grateful for my wife that has sacrificed much this week to make this possible. She has taken the lead in providing for our son as I heal. She has taken the lead on providing for me as I heal. I am incredibly touched that there are others out there that are willing to donate tissue to benefit another human being and to improve another person’s quality of life. I am in awe of the medical professionals that are incredibly skilled and patient and devoted to a life of service. I am also inspired by the eye bank organization that facilitates the donation of eye tissue and works with both the donor’s family and the person receiving the transplant. I woke up this morning, and I could see out of my left eye. It was the most unreal experience ever. The best news of all is that I will now be able to play catch with my son. The world is a positive and amazing place if you have the vision to see it.
Thanks to the generous donation of a cornea, I can look forward to regaining vision in my left eye. I am in my late forties and have been suffering from keratoconus, a degenerative cornea disorder, for most of my life. I have had extremely low vision in my left eye for as long as I can remember.
I’m in sales, inventory management with a large territory and drive an extensive amount. Vision is crucial for my employment. In addition to working full-time, I am a husband and loving father of a late twenty’s stepson as well as a teenage daughter, who we are currently preparing for college.
I was diagnosed with keratoconus approximately two years ago, but the doctor said I’ve most likely had this disease since I was a teenager. The keratoconus was continuing to deteriorate my cornea and my options remained extremely limited. Needless to say, I had my diseased cornea removed in September.
While the surgery went perfectly, I was saddened when I began to think of the gift I was given. How is it fair that a family can have their heart ripped from them? Should I benefit from their grief? I am amazed at the compassion and benevolence exhibited by my donor’s family in having the forethought to consider organ, eye and tissue donation. To think of saving and helping others in a time of deep sorrow shows real courage and true selflessness. I thank them for it and truly consider their gift the greatest I will ever receive.
I promise to honor the memory of my donor as long as I live. I promise to live my life to the fullest and seek out new opportunities and great adventures. With my eyes I will see all there is to see. My donor will see what I see, and I will think of them every step of the way. We may never meet, but I consider my donor and their family a part of my family. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
We often say “what goes around, comes around” with a negative connotation, but Steve Huth, a Janesville Lions Club member, will tell you he knows it differently.
Steve’s story starts with a diagnosis of Fuchs’ Dystrophy, in 2004. Fuchs’ Dystrophy causes the clear layer (cornea) to swell. The disorder can lead to glare, cloudy vision and eye discomfort. Fuchs’ Dystrophy usually affects both eyes and can cause your vision to gradually worsen over years.
Struggling to blink without pain, and after trying a variety of treatments, Steve’s physician recommended a full corneal tissue transplant in his right eye in 2005. Eleven months later, he received a partial transplant in his right eye, followed by a partial corneal transplant in his left eye a year later. Once Steve was fully recovered, his vision was 20-20 in both eyes. “Recovery was intense, my vision would change monthly, and I even got new glasses four times in a year,” says Huth.
Steve’s story with the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin didn’t start with his corneal transplants. A Janesville Lions club member for over 30 years, Steve, an LEBW Transporter, had been transporting corneal tissue for years. Brought in by the ability to serve his community and make a difference in the lives of others, Steve has always found comfort in helping others as a Lion. “Many of our service projects revolve around making other people’s lives just a little more beautiful.”
Still a Transporter, and now a double-corneal transplant recipient, Steve has a deep appreciation for those who chose to give the gift of sight. “It can be the light of the moon or the brightness of the sunshine that guides our way; I am always thankful for the people who took the time to share their wishes with their families to donate eye tissue,” says Huth.
A nurse for more than 30 years, double corneal transplant recipient, Kathy Roberg, was diagnosed with Fuchs’ Dystrophy in 2003. Fuchs’ Dystrophy is a disease that usually affects both eyes and causes a gradual decline in vision due to corneal swelling and clouding. Overtime, Kathy’s vision worsened and she required her first corneal transplant in 2017. Kathy’s corneal transplants have allowed her to continue to participate and lead 15+ trips to Haiti, providing medical and dental care to local residents. She also works with women and children to develop business opportunities, educational assistance and teaching nursing at both the clinical and university level. “I am now able to be a wife, mother, sister, auntie and friend – and see and reflect the smiles and joy that come from others. I will do my best every day to wake up and thank the donors and their families for this precious gift.”
Corneal transplantation is one of the most frequently performed human transplant procedures and the most successful – over 95% success rate. Lean more about eye donation at lebw.org/donation. Save and heal lives by registering to be an organ, eye and tissue donor at donatelifewisconsin.org or at a Wisconsin DMV service center.