Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brother, Can You Spare a Cornea?

So, hey, I have a question for you...

Have you signed your organ donor card?

I know this seems like an odd question to appear out of nowhere. It isn't really nowhere, though, as you see within the next few years I am likely going to need one of your corneas - or at least someone's cornea.

I have endured a chronic eye disease for fifteen years. After years of irritating medications, repeated assaults from the virus that scarred it and emergency glaucoma surgery, my left cornea finally surrendered this week. The perforation in my cornea, while small and likely repairable at this point, is an indication my cornea has begun to degrade, and the time to consider joining the corneal transplant waiting list may have arrived.

I have known for some time this could be coming. About eight years ago my ophthalmologist at the time asked if I had considered a transplant to address the deep scarring of my cornea. I was so used to the scarring, though, that I rejected the idea. My brain has learned to virtually ignore the signals coming from that eye as they are of such poor quality, and I am not even certain what it would be like to see clearly with it once again. I have been so fortunate that my right eye has been unaffected and so I have muddled along for years, dealing with chronic eye problems but rarely of the severity that has occurred this summer. This latest development, though, has me thinking a great deal about donor cards and transplants.

Current statistics are a bit tough to find but there are thousands of Canadian on the waiting list for new corneas. Some are in far more dire straights than I, needing two healthy corneas to replace their damaged ones, and some have been waiting for a very, very long time to see. And of course there are all the other organs needed in order to prolong the lives of others, but it is a topic we are still hesitant to discuss because it deals with things like death, a subject which makes most of us squirm.

The reality though is that the people on waiting lists for hearts and lungs and corneas are just like me. They lead their lives like we all do until some part of their body fails them, like my poor cornea which has just grown weary of years of damage and insult. For some their very continued existence depends on that donated organ, while for some of us it will simply change our lives by just maybe allowing us to see again.

This week I am in Edmonton as I receive care for an ophthalmologic emergency. It seems most likely that my cornea can be salvaged for now, but my future very likely includes a corneal transplant. As I sit here in my hotel room I think about that eventuality and how I have long known some day my vision in my left eye would depend on someone signing a small card indicating their wish to donate their organs, including their corneas, when they will no longer be using them. I always knew it would depend on a family who, after their own tragic loss, finds the strength and courage to allow some good to come from it in the form of changing and saving the lives of others.

One day in the future I may well see the world far more clearly, with an undamaged cornea that once belonged to someone else. I am still working through my feelings on that, because as a writer I cannot help but wonder about the person who may one day allow me to see. And I know this: they may be signing their organ donor card right now, or thinking about it.

It is humbling to be so reliant on the kindness and generosity of others, particularly when that generosity means they must think of their own death. Now I look into  a future that includes seeing through the eyes - or at the least the cornea - of someone else.

I hate to ask, but when you aren't using them anymore any chance you could spare a cornea? I would be so very, very grateful - as would the thousands of other Canadians waiting for corneas, hearts, lungs and more.

Sign your donor card. People just like me - in fact, me - are relying on you to do it. And we want to thank you in advance for giving us the gift of life - and sight.

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