One morning an elderly man consulted me because he had experienced difficulty seeing his woodwork. He explained that this was his main interest in life as he enjoyed making gifts for family members and friends to serve as a reminder of him after his death.
A few weeks later a 33 -year-old patient, who was bubbling with enthusiasm because she had received “the gift of sight” from a stranger, consulted me for a routine examination. She had been classified as blind as a result of keratoconus. This is a condition in which the cornea (the clear window of tissue in front of the iris) becomes deformed, causing distortion of vision in a similar way to that caused by ripples on the surface of a swimming pool.
Because of the extreme form of the disease, treatment with contact lenses had become ineffective. As a result she had undergone a corneal transplant operation in which the damaged cornea is replaced with healthy tissue from a deceased donor. These transplants are more successful than those of other organs as the risk of rejection is reduced because most of the cornea has no blood supply.
While I was examining the ‘living” donated cornea I realised the donor had partially succeeded in “defying death”. This unselfish act had enabled the gift of sight to be passed on, which would serve as a daily reminder of the donor long after death.
While hand crafted gifts can become cherished heirlooms, donating a cornea has the potential to transform a life.