Quasim Hamdani: A Man of Vision 

April 10, 2014
The Hamdini Family

The Hamdini Family

Like many people, Laurie Hamdani gets impatient waiting in line. She relates strongly to the thousands of people awaiting live-giving organ, cornea and tissue transplants. It’s not because she is one of them, but because there’s a logical decision everyone can make to help end the waiting.

She and her husband, Quasim, made that decision: to register as organ and tissue donors when renewing their drivers’ licenses. “It just seemed like a logical choice,” she says.

She describes her husband as a bright, optimistic, intelligent man in his prime — “my best friend, an amazing father to our two daughters, the center of his extended family and revered by his peers and coworkers.” With a family history of cardiac health problems, Quasim spent years improving his health through diet, exercise and stress management.

But in November 2012 he suffered a heart attack. “He was gravely ill for the first several days, but then rallied,” Laurie recalls. A little over a week later, his family was planning his return home when he developed sudden, terminal complications.

Laurie and Quasim

Laurie and Quasim

Quasim’s death left his family in shock. They struggled to understand how he could fall victim to the cardiac illness he worked so hard to avoid.

When Quasim was declared dead, hospital staff informed her that he was medically eligible to be a cornea and tissue donor. His foresight to register as a donor became a legacy of sight and better life for others.

“Quasim was really a man of vision,” Laurie says. “He encouraged me, our children and almost anyone he spent time with to set their sights high. Truly, he was that pebble tossed in a pond whose ripples expanded outward.”

In early 2013, Laurie learned about the man who received her husband’s corneas. “It seems most fitting and comforting to me to know that his eyes literally help another man see. Our family suffered a tremendous loss. But I find peace in knowing that out of our tragedy, another family had something truly amazing happen.”

Recently, Laurie’s father underwent spinal surgery, requiring donated bone. “Tissue donation, such as that which my father received, is a gift because it improves the recipient’s quality of life,” she says. “You can make a decision today to give the gift of hope to another person, and you won’t have to wait in a long line to do it. Please consider registering as a donor today.”


30 Stories in 30 Days: The Blessings of Donation

April 29, 2013

Caleb was able to give sight to others through is decision to be a donor.

Sheila and Terry Walters’ son, Caleb, was killed in a motorcycle accident shortly before his 21st birthday in 2008. The family was devastated, but they remembered that Caleb wanted to be an organ and tissue donor. Unfortunately, the coroner ordered an autopsy, so the time needed to conduct it would prevent organ donation from happening.

Sheila and Cyndy

Sheila and recipient Cyndy

“We knew Caleb wanted to be an organ donor, so we wanted to honor that wish,” Sheila said. “We wanted something good to come out of our loss.” The Walters left the hospital that day shattered and broken, first, by the loss of Caleb and, second, because they could not honor his wish to be an organ donor.

“It’s difficult to tell you how joyful it felt to receive a phone call from the Illinois Eye-Bank just hours later at home,” Sheila recalled. “Surrounded by friends and family on our deck on a beautiful and tragic day, our flag flying outside at half mast, tears of joy began filling our eyes at the hope that Caleb could be a cornea donor. We could do one last thing for our son and positively enhance the life of another. His life and legacy of helping others would continue; he would make a difference.”

The Illinois Eye-Bank has been a blessing to the family, Sheila said. “It helped us focus during our grief. It gave us a positive outlook on life and death. It helped us see that this is not just about us and our loss but about others and love.” Sheila and Terry are now volunteers for the Illinois Eye-Bank. They have shared their story, signed up new donors and “adopted” recipients who don’t know their donor families.

Sheila and Terry

The Walter Family finds comfort in Caleb’s gift of sight.

Sheila and her family feel God is helping to heal their broken hearts through Caleb’s cornea donation. “Being in touch with Caleb’s recipients has brought comfort,” Sheila said. “I feel so relieved to know that Caleb’s corneas are making a difference in their lives.” And through their work with the Eye-Bank, Sheila said they have witnessed “first hand the reason and purpose for organ and tissue donation on a human level.”

30 Stories in 30 Days: A Clear Vision for the Future

April 8, 2013
Linda Ellerman

Thanks to a cornea transplant, Linda is able to see clearly.

Linda Ellerman is an advocate for organ and tissue donation and a staunch believer in miracles from God because she is “living proof” of the benefits of organ and tissue donation. Her story began nearly six years ago when she was diagnosed with an eye infection.

A specialist at University of Illinois Medical Center determined she had a corneal fungal infection that was causing her cornea to become cloudy. “It was destroying the cornea tissue and rendering me completely blind in my left eye,” she explained.

Another problem was high ocular pressure. She said it was so great that it made cornea surgery difficult. The doctor explained that it would be like trying to put a patch on an inflated balloon. “As soon as a cut was made to remove the damaged cornea tissue, the balloon would pop,” she said. “This would complicate knowing where to put the donated tissue because the cornea would shrivel as soon as it was cut.”

Tissue rejection also was a possibility, and she would likely need a second transplant, Linda said. Thankfully, this was not the case, and five years have passed since her surgery. “My life is completely normal,” Linda said. “I am still at risk for tissue rejection, but the risk is 1 percent or less.”

Linda’s experience moved her to become an advocate for organ and tissue donation. “It was something I had always supported before but did not know very much about. Now, I know quite a bit and I continue volunteering for the Illinois Eye-Bank and Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.”

30 Stories in 30 Days: A Second Chance at Sight

April 3, 2013
Don Rowley

Cornea recipient Don Rowley is able to continue coaching basketball because of the gift of sight. — Photo courtesy of Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media

“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!”

Don Rowley sees the world in a new light

Don Rowley sees the world in a new light

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.

The Gift of Perspective

March 7, 2011

Jeff Govednik is an avid volunteer for Donate Life Illinois. His resolute passion for spreading awareness of organ and tissue donation is the product of a life changed by the gift of sight through cornea transplantation. Jeff is a shining example of how organ and tissue donation changes the lives of those who are so fortunate to receive a lifesaving or life-enhancing gift. We are fortunate that Jeff graciously agreed to share his story to celebrate March as National Eye Donor Month.

Initially, I thought that my eyesight was just getting a little weak. I had problems playing baseball and lost a few golf balls. I also strained while reading or driving. With time, my eyesight gradually worsened. Upon visiting the optometrist to get a pair of glasses, I was told that I needed to see a specialist.

I remember the first time I heard the word “keratoconus.” The doctor explained to me that Keratoconus is a degenerative disease of the corneas that causes patients to gradually lose the ability to see detail. My doctor was able to slow the progression of the disease for a time, but eventually it evolved to where I was unable to see with my left eye. It became apparent that a cornea transplant was the only treatment that could restore my vision.

It was a sobering moment when my doctor called the Illinois Eye-Bank. I was no longer worried about sports or long weekends. I was now scared that I would lose my job as a pharmacist. Would I be able to participate in all of the hobbies that I enjoyed? How would my life change?


Cornea recipient's vision before and after transplant.

My first cornea transplant was in 1999, and my second was in 2009. I was given more than the gift of sight—I was given perspective. I now savor every sunset, value every walk and appreciate every bike ride. Did my life change? Absolutely. Can I do everything that I did before? No, but I gained an appreciation for the things that I could do. I am still a pharmacist, and I am able to continue pursuing my love of sports.  

When you register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor, you do so much more than save lives. You are giving the gift of future experiences. This is a gift so great that it is truly incomprehensible. My donors touched my life as well as the lives of all those around me. Through cornea transplantation, I was given the gift of sight as well as the gift of perspective.

Please, take 30 seconds to register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at DonateLifeIllinois.org.


 Jeff Govednik

To learn more about cornea transplantation and the gift of sight, visit the Illinois Eye-Bank Web site. You can also join their NEW Facebook Fan Page.


2010 U.S. Transplant Games – 594 Days and Counting

December 15, 2008

mary2Mary Schlereth is one of our contributing bloggers here at “I am. Are you?” She’s also an incredibly busy, busy person. Currently the Community Engagement Coordinator at Illinois Eye-Bank, Mary has also helped spearhead Donate Life Illinois’ high school organ/tissue donor education program.

On top of it all, Mary now serves as the co-manager for Team Illinois 2010, the state’s U.S. Transplant Games team. We wanted to check in with Mary as she gets ready to enter a busy year and a half of planning and prepping for what will undoubtedly be another excellent Transplant Games.

We plan to check in with Mary from time to time as we countdown to the 2010 Games!



594 days away.
50 states.
5,000 people.
1 place.
5 days…

1 reason.

The U.S. Transplant Games 2010 are 594 days away!  More than 5,000 people from across the nation will come together in Madison, Wisconsin July 30-August 4th, 2010 to celebrate and honor the gift of life!

If you’ve never been to the Transplant Games, you need to go!  Whether it’s to see the opening ceremonies, check out the National Donor Quilt or to watch transplant recipients swim or bike their way to the finish line, it is truly an event you won’t soon forget.  For those of you who live in IL, it will be an easy drive up and I hear Madison is beautiful.

Team Illinois is gearing up for the Games. I keep telling everyone that once the New Year starts, we are going hit the ground running!  We’ve taken some time off to relax and recuperate from the 2008 Games in Pittsburg, but once January 1 hits, we’ll be ready to go!  We’ll start having fundraising events as well as team socials around the state.

I’ll keep you updated on this blog, but also check out the new Team Illinois website.  Our WebMaster, David, who is a kidney/pancreas recipient, did a fabulous job! Something new to Team Illinois for the upcoming Games is our social networking presence on NING (it’s a private network but just drop a comment here if you’re planning to be part of Team Illinois 2010)!

This NING-thing is new to me.  I’m still one of those 20-somethings (at least for a few more months) who doesn’t have a MySpace or Facebook page.  I know, I know.  I’m trying to catch up!  But it’s really great to see Team Members already communicating and getting ready for the Games.

Also, if you’re from another state, you’ve got a team.  Check out the National Kidney Foundation’s official 2010 Transplant Games site.

I’ll be sure to drop another update in early ’09!

~ Mary
Team IL Co-Manager

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Annual Donor Family Tribute Draws Record Attendance

September 19, 2008

Earlier this month, nearly 700 family members whose loved ones donated life attended Gift of Hope’s annual “Day of Hope and Remembrance,” bringing together family and friends to honor the legacy of loved ones who gave the gift of hope through organ, eye and tissue donation. 

Held at Wildlife Prairie State Park in Peoria, the day included a picnic, speaker remarks from transplant recipients and a remembrance ceremony, culminating with families scattering wildflower seeds in a field in memory of their loved ones. Donor families also had the opportunity to view the Gift of Hope Donor Quilt and gather information on becoming a Donate Life Illinois Volunteer.


 Heartland Lions Eye Bank and Illinois Eye-Bank co-host this highly rated special event.

Thanks to everyone for coming out and making this special day such a great success!

– Joslyn

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