“While my need for corneal transplants was not life-threatening, my experience has been nothing short of a miracle,” said Don Rowley, a retired basketball coach and math teacher. “There isn’t a day when I don’t think about my transplants and realize how fortunate I am to have been given the gift of sight.”
Don had suffered from eyesight problems since he was 10 years old. At 26, he was diagnosed with keratoconus, a non-inflammatory eye condition in which the normally round dome-shaped cornea progressively thins, causing a cone-like bulge to develop. This results in significant visual impairment. By the time Don reached his 40s, his vision had dropped dramatically, and he decided on corneal transplants in both eyes.
Don’s first operation was in 1999. “The surgery was easy, and the next morning I could see 20/100,” he said. Several adjustments to correct his vision to 20/20 were made over the next months. “It was like going from a very small fuzzy TV to instant IMAX,” he said. “Not only were objects clear, but colors were vivid!”
In 2000, Don received the second transplant. “I was so grateful that I wanted to give back,” he explained. So he organized an organ and tissue donation night. His first donor family agreed to come, along with the Jesse White Tumblers, Don’s two physicians, the county coroner and a representative from the Illinois Eye-Bank. The result: 1,400 newly registered donors!
“My eyesight is a miracle in my life,” he said. “I am thankful – especially to Gift of Hope – for every minute.” Don now is a speaker for Gift of Hope and gives talks to high school students about registering as organ and tissue donors when they reach 18. His mission: “To promote donation and to contribute in any other way that I can,” he said.