Illinois Donor Diaries – Chapter 11- To See Again…

Today’s Illinois Donor Diaries entry comes from Jackie Stillmaker, three-time corneal transplant recipient and a freshman at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. who is helping with outreach at Knox for our Campus Challenge. Jackie also helps spread the word about the importance of organ/tissue donation through outreach with the Illinois Eye-Bank. The entry below is taken from Jackie’s speech last month at Gift of Hope’s Donor Family ceremony. Thanks Jackie!

To See Again…
I am Jackie Stillmaker and I am honored to share with you my gratitude to all the donor families as well as to your loved ones, the true heroes, who physically are not here, but will always be in our hearts and the lives of others. I am a three-time corneal transplant recipient. I swam with my contact lenses and got an infection called Acanthamoeba Keratitis. This infection left me blind in my left eye for three years. I was only 14 years old at the time, entering my freshman year of high school. I battled for my eyesight throughout high school. I’m currently a freshman at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. I can finally see the world from two eyes again only because of the wonders of donation. There is not a kinder act a person can do than give yourself to save or better someone’s life.

My corneal surgeon, Dr. Epstein, performed all three transplants. Without the gift of donation and great doctors, I would be blind in my left eye for the rest of my life. At one point during my infection I was not even able to see two fingers directly in front of my eye. The only vision I had was the ability to see motion. Now I am able to see out of two eyes and I have never been so thankful.

As a basketball player, adjusting to play with one eye was very difficult and sometimes even seemed impossible. However, I never gave up my passion for the the game and continued to try my hardest throughout my four years of basketball. Finally, when my vision was restored I felt like a whole new person and most of all…I felt normal. Though I received my eyesight back, I dealt with many different health issues for my senior year that disabled me from playing basketball for my last and final year.

Due to the medicines I was taking my senior year, I developed Avascular Necrosis in all my ball and socket joints. Simply put, Avascular Necrosis is a deterioration of your bone joints; I have had surgery on both my shoulders as well as both my hips. The necrosis is still present, however, the aching pain in my joints has subsided. The next surgery I would need if the pain persists would require a bone graft from a donor.

As you can see I am extremely grateful to donors and their families to allow me to live a normal life again. I never once expressed any pity on myself and am thankful for the kindness people gave me in restoring my sight and making me live comfortably without pain. I speak on behalf of all corneal transplant recipients that we are deeply grateful for this gift of sight because of your loved one’s quiet and humble gesture to help us see again. Without donors, I would not be standing here today in front of all you amazing people who spread your love to the world by such a simple yet beautiful act as tissue and organ donation; may your loved one’s gift be an inspiration to all. Thank you.

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