New Jersey Father Donates Cornea to Legally Blind Son

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The Possible Gift of Sight

Tom's aunt asked if Tom could use his father's cornea to help correct the vision in his left eye. A cornea transplant had never been considered. The family wondered whether it was even possible.

"Oh God, I still get goose bumps when I talk about it," said Kathy Hughes.

For the past six years, Hughes has worked as a transplant coordinator at the Gift of Life Donor Program, an organ procurement organization, and she went to work on the Bestwicks' behalf. But she kept running into dead ends.

Corneas must be transplanted within 12 to 14 days, and the clock was clicking .

"It all had to be precise," said Hughes. "We had to stay on top of this to make sure it happened."

Hughes first had to account for organ recovery, or in this case, tissue recovery, and then had to make sure the transplant could be carried out.

She contacted Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley, where a staff evaluated and expedited the removal of Tom Sr.'s corneas from Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del., where he'd died.

Hughes then worked to find an eye surgeon.

To keep it all "under one roof," Hughes coordinated with Christiana Hospital, the Gift of Life Program, Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia and Lions Eye Bank in Delaware Valley.

Dr. Parveen Nagra, a corneal surgeon at Wills Eye Institute, agreed to perform the surgery after hearing Tom's story.

Just when everything seemed to be lining up, though, Tom's employer brought up a worrisome clause in Tom's insurance contract.

"There was a clause that states it does not cover pre-existing medical conditions," said Hughes.

Hughes made more phone calls. Within days, Wills Eye was willing to donate the corneal surgery and Lions Eye Bank would donate the corneas 100 percent.

"We do anything within our power to make the gift a possibility, particular when financial barriers stand in the way," said Jim Quirk, Pres. and COO of Lions Eye Bank. "At the end of the day, you have an organization to run, but some things transcend finances."

"I asked Dr. Nagra if she'd donate her time," said Hughes. "She and the hospital said, 'Absolutely.'"

Nagra she'd never encountered a situation quite like Tom's.

"It was a very emotional time for him having learned very unexpectedly of his father's premature death, and to make these decisions," said Nagra. "He felt very strongly about getting his father's cornea."

Nagra performed the surgery four days after Tom's father died. When Tom went back for a follow-up checkup, it was the day of his father's funeral.

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