As her 40-year-old son, Aaron, lay in the intensive care unit following a car crash, Debbie Martin had one very tough decision, and one easy one. “When the doctor said, ‘He’ll never be the son you knew,’ I knew it was time to let him go,” she said.
The pain in that decision was almost unspeakable. But Martin’s next decision brought her great comfort. She donated Aaron’s corneas. “I didn’t hesitate,” she said. “I didn’t even know he had signed his license, but he had. It helped me to know he helped someone else. It made his death mean something.”
With that gift, Martin joined the many other patient families who have helped their loved ones donate organs, tissue or eyes. In 2015, Mercy Hospital Springfield helped facilitate 156 eye donations through Saving Sight, a nonprofit organization that coordinates cornea donation for transplants as part of its mission to change lives by saving sight. Mercy ophthalmologists also performed 93 cornea transplants last year. As a result, Saving Sight has presented Mercy with its Excellence in Eye Donation Award.
While donor families and cornea recipients generally don’t meet, Martin did get a letter to her son’s recipient, who responded. “She had lost her husband and her two kids,” Martin said. “Her remaining child has a medical condition that requires her to drive him to appointments, so her sight was critical. This lady can now care for her son because of my son. We’re so blessed the doctors have the technology to make this possible.”
Each year, about 48,000 people in the United States require a cornea transplant to restore vision that’s lost due to disease, disorder or injury. Cornea transplants are about 95 percent successful.
Branson guitarist Leroy New knows the value of a cornea transplant. He could hear the notes just fine, but his sight was slipping and was interfering with everyday life. “Everything was fuzzy,” he remembered. “I had trouble watching television or reading print – even with glasses.”
Getting his cataracts removed helped a little for a while, but it didn’t solve the problem. His doctor referred him to Dr. Shachar Tauber at Mercy Clinic Eye Specialists to see what else could be done. “He recommended a transplant,” New said. “After he did the first eye, I was amazed. I’d lost my ability to see colors so gradually that I didn’t even realize it was gone – but I could suddenly see them again and it was so vivid.”
Both New and Martin encourage others to become organ donors. “Even if you feel like you didn’t accomplish much in this life, if you give this gift on your way out, you can know you’ve done something really great,” New said.
“I’m a strong believer in God,” Martin said. “I believe everything has a reason and a time and when we leave this world, we don’t need this body. People should talk to their families about this and make their wishes known.”
April is Donate Life Month. To find out more about becoming an organ, tissue or eye donor, visit donatelife.net.
Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2017 by Truven, an IBM Watson Health company, serves millions annually. Mercy includes 44 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.