“As you walk the journey, you begin to see what you really need to see.”
My story began long before my personal journey when someone demonstrated compassion, courage, generosity and forethought and became a donor. I have been a recipient of that act of kindness on four different occasions. The opportunity to live my life with the ability to see all of the wonderful things around me is a gift; my wife, children, grandchildren, family, friends, colleagues and all the beauty of nature would be shadows without it.
The opportunity to reflect on my 40-year “journey to the see” is a unique privilege. My real “seeing” is having a humble appreciation for the generosity of the individuals who made the choice to share their very being with me.
I regret that it has taken me so long to put into words how honored I feel to be touched by my donors in such a personal and profound way – I think they would be proud for all they have given. So I want to take time now to stop, reflect and share part of my journey. It exists because of those who were so willing to share with me.
I wore glasses at an early age but felt a profound impact in junior high when I had to wear athletic glasses with rubber in the middle. Needless to say, I did not get too much girl-attention.
My high school years were dominated by athletics. I successfully played football, basketball and baseball and I did it all without clear vision (and I might add, still no attention from the opposite sex). A turning point and highlight for me was when my parents allowed me to get my first pair of hard contact lenses during the fall of my junior year. Our school was playing a great Westside team that week and I (the quarterback) was actually going to be able to see the numbers on the receivers’ backs—what a boost for my team!
The next four years were uneventful until the early 1970s when I could not see the blackboard (no whiteboards yet) in my UNO accounting class. The solution at this point was a stronger prescription for my contacts but that turned out to be much too simplistic. I was diagnosed with Keratoconus, a degenerative disorder of the eye in which structural changes within the cornea cause it to thin and change to a cone shape. Dr. John Filkins, my ophthalmologist, recommended that we monitor the progression of the disease until surgery was necessary.
Over the next two years, especially during football season, I could see one moment and not the next. My contacts were like loaded springs and would pop out just when I was going for the ball. It’s difficult enough to catch a football—trying doing it with springing contacts! You can imagine some of the looks I received from players and coaches! I was lucky enough my senior year to receive a donated set of special contact lenses that fit the entire eye. The saucer contacts could only be worn during the games, and it was such fun to put them in my eyes while my squeamish teammates watched. It became a locker-room pastime.
In June 1973, I graduated form UNO and was looking forward to my first teaching and coaching job. I was working in the keg room at the Falstaff Brewery when I received my first call from Dr. Filkins’ office that a donor cornea was available. I had a new left cornea within 24 hours.
The surgery was painless except for the shots administered directly into the eye while awake. OW! Those shots really hurt. Not the case today. Post-surgery was the greatest challenge. I could do nothing for six weeks, not even bend down to wash my hair. The stitches were long and rubbed my eye lids. I had to sleep with my head straight on the pillow. I wore a patch over the eye for a year and had to adjust to seeing with one eye. A schedule of drops and salve became part of my daily routine.
I started teaching and coaching in August and keeping dust and dirt out of my eye was a challenge. Dr. Filkins fit me with a very thick pair of glasses. I was fine with it until I overhead a sophomore football player in the hallway describing his coach—“you know, the one with the coke-bottle glasses.” Subsequently, I convince Dr. Filkins to fit me with contacts, even though I had to wear two contacts in each eye—a soft lens on the bottom; a hard one on top.
My second surgery to correct the other eye occurred in May 1976. Dr. Filkins again performed a successful surgery and continued to touch my life at a very vulnerable time. I guess there are lots of angels in my story. My recovery this time was shorter, and I was more mentally prepared for the post-surgery process.
My third transplant and second one in my left eye occurred in April 1989. It was totally painless, even the pre-surgery shots in my eye. The fourth and last transplant to date occurred in August 2005 and was performed at the Midwest Eye Clinic by Dr. Pete Whitted. Again, I had successful surgery and was back in my office within two days.
I have many memorable stories related to my eyes. I was a varsity high school basketball official, sometimes officiating games at the Civic Arena. I hated when the fans yelled from the stands after an unpopular call, “Hey, ref, are you blind?” I just smiled.
While driving, I had both contacts pop out. I made my way home by following the white liens at the side of the road. Please don’t ever try this; and also, please don’t tell my wife or the police.
I once lost a contact in a bowl of chili—it melted. However, when I was life-guarding and lost two contacts in the city swimming pool, I retrieved both the next day in the pool filter catch.
During a rainstorm, I was the designated driver for a party of six. Someone said to turn on the wipers. I told them wipers didn’t really matter much after four corneal transplants. There was complete silence and then the simultaneous sound of seatbelts being clicked.
Today, I continue to put anti-rejection drops in my eyes daily. My eyes get tired and I always feel like I have something in them. I will be visiting Dr. Whitted this month for my six month check; hopefully, my grafts are clear.
Those who share my life see the nervous times, the impatient times and the funny times. I want to thank them. Above all, I thank those people who are willing to be donors. God Bless.
By Mike McGuire, 4-time cornea recipient