For Favorite Friend Friday this week we have an incredible Lion, Board Member, and volunteer to brag about, Lion Mark Green. Now is the perfect time to feature Mark, as he has been invaluable in our fundraising efforts to make this year’s Gift of Sight Charity Golf Classic the best one yet!

To our initial surprise, this year’s golf tournament, taking place on Tuesday, October 27th, is turning out to be our most successful one yet! Much of this is thanks to the tireless work of Mark and his efforts to bring in golfers and sponsorships. To date, Mark has brought us twenty golfers and eighteen sponsors, and he’s not done yet!

Mark joined the Lions Club in 2005 and was introduced to Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley in 2010 when he joined the Board of Trustees. Being a Lion is about giving back to your community; prior to dedicating so much time to LEBDV, Mark was a volunteer fire fighter and oversaw their fundraising events. He was introduced to the Lions Club through a police officer he worked closely with during his time at the firehouse.

When asked about why he dedicates so much of his time to giving back, Mark says, “I enjoy helping people. As a past chairman and member of multiple committees, I get an inside look at all the incredible work done on a daily basis at the eye bank.” Mark has a niece who is legally blind and explains how she motivates him to help restore the gift of sight.

Besides Golf, one of Mark’s favorite events is the Annual Corneal Transplant Recipient Luncheon. “Seeing the faces of young kids and adults whose vision has been restored, there’s nothing like it. Meeting recipients and donor families firsthand makes our mission and work more real.”

When Mark is not working for PECO or volunteering for the eye bank, he is spending time with his wife, Nancy, his children Stephanie and Jeremy, and his two grandkids, Alivia and Evan.

If you see Mark next Tuesday at our Gift of Sight Charity Golf Classic, be sure to thank him for his incredible efforts in fundraising for the gift of sight. Thank you for all that you do for LEBDV Mark!

            The incredible sight-saving work done at Lion’s Eye Bank would not be possible without the dedication of the Recovery Technicians! This week’s Favorite Friend Friday features Bill Ostrander, a passionate and hard-working Certified Eye Bank Technician (CEBT) at LEBDV.  This month actually marks Bill’s six year work anniversary at LEBDV!

            Before working at the eye bank, Bill graduated from Washington College and majored in Biology. After graduating, he worked at Thomas Jefferson University, primarily in the Cancer Center, for five years; Bill researched prostate cancer, performed lab management, and conducted experiments. Through connections in his field, Bill learned about eye banking and became interested in a position at LEBDV.

            There is no typical workday for Bill as a Recovery Technician, but a normal week consists of receiving referral calls from the Gift of Life Donor Program, reviewing all aspects of the cornea donor, and recovering the corneas. Beyond that, Bill also uses microscopes to evaluate corneas. He is able to tell how healthy the cornea is and verifies that it is the safest and highest quality tissue for transplantation. More recently, Bill has been reviewing donors’ health charts to make sure the donors qualify medically for cornea transplantation.

            Bill believes the most important aspect of his job is knowing that what he does directly affects recipients and their families. One thing Bill is really proud of is the Gratis Tissue Program; the program provides cornea tissue to all people despite their finances. He believes that a person’s ability to pay should never be a barrier for one’s ability to see. One of his favorite memories from working at LEBDV is seeing two current LEBDV employees, Alex and Holly, have personal experiences with corneal transplants and then dedicate their time to further help LEBDV.

When Bill is not on the job, he enjoys spending his free time relaxing down the shore with his wife, Amy, going to breweries, and staying active through exercise and lifting weights.

Thank you for all you do at LEBDV, Bill!

 

Today’s Favorite Friend Friday is a woman who is no stranger to the world of donation and transplantation. Tamikya Whittle is a nursing assistant in the emergency department of Christiana Care. She is also the mom to Cameron Whittle (and two more boys and three girls), who had his corneal transplant at 14 years old.

At work in addition to being responsible for drawing labs, beside procedure assistance, EKGs and more, Tamikya is also the one to make the initial calls to family members and Gift of Life when an individual passes away.

“There is such a big misconception around registering to be a donor because of how you will be treated in the hospital,” Tamikya explains. “People think that doctors won’t work as hard to save you. Once that misconception is out there in a community it’s hard to get rid of.”

Once her son Cam had his corneal transplant, Tamikya registered to be a donor herself. “There was a point in time where I was very uncertain about my son’s future. Now he is about to start his junior year of college and is well on his way to starting his own clothing line!”

“For anyone on the fence about registering to be a donor, I would try to get them to understand the truly lifechanging effects it can have on individual’s lives. There is no greater gift you can give.”

This week’s Favorite Friends Friday are two people very near and dear to our hearts. Not only is Althea Fogle a Lion who dedicated more than 30 years of her life to changing lives at Lions Eye Bank, but her and her family made the decision to say yes to donation when they were faced with the tragic loss of her daughter, Tiffany.

We feel so lucky to have Althea and her family in our lives and cannot think of a better story to share. Continue reading to learn more about her incredible daughter, Tiffany.

By all accounts, Tiffany was an extraordinary young woman, known for her memorable spirit, motivating personality and strong faith. An active student, she graduated from West Philadelphia High School with a resume full of accomplishments, including being named homecoming queen and elected class secretary. She won awards at science fairs and served as an advocate for school reform. Entering Cheyney University in 2008, her mom, Althea, who had worked for Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley for more than 30 years, said, “Tiffany worked hard to excel, despite numerous hospital stays, and she had many accomplishments, such as being appointed secretary for the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality: Cheyney Branch in September 2012. But more important, Tiffany always encouraged and helped her friends and classmates stay on track. She was very giving and always left an impression on the people she met!”  

Unfortunately, Tiffany faced some significant health concerns, and in October 2012, during her senior year at Cheyney, Tiffany died of a pulmonary embolism. The family was heartbroken. While they were unable to donate Tiffany’s organs, the decision to donate her eyes, bone and tissue was a given.

“Since I worked here so long, everyone at the Eye Bank watched Tiffany grow up. She was very familiar with the work we do, and she felt strongly about giving back. I knew we could donate her corneas and help to restore the vision of two individuals. After the surgery, the doctor who transplanted one of her corneas let me know that his patient was already seeing clearer than she had in years. It brought tears to my eyes and I thought to myself, what a beautiful legacy she’s passed on,” said Althea.

“Tiffany’s life wasn’t just a blessing to her family and the recipients who received her gift,” Althea explained. “She left a mark on many. When she passed on, the Cheyney community came together in ways we couldn’t imagine: holding candlelight vigils, busing students to her service and even presenting her an honorary BS degree in May 2013. I am so proud to say that Tiffany accomplished more in her short life than many ever will. And she continues to live through the people she has helped—her family, her friends, her peers and her corneal recipients.”  

Family has always been a priority in Carmen Perez’s life. In 1964, she moved with her family to the United States from Cuba. With her family, she adjusted to a new language, country and job. While living in Baltimore in 1976, she started to experience eye problems and learned she had Fuchs’ dystrophy, a slowly progressing corneal disease.

Over the next few decades, Carmen’s vision began to deteriorate. She developed cataracts, and after surgery, her condition worsened. She could not see out of her left eye and was unable to drive. “I felt restless and trapped in my own house,” she said. “I knew it was time for my cornea transplant.”

In 2009, Dr. Christopher Rapuano performed a transplant in Carmen’s left eye. She said the difference was “immediate and incredible.” She had a transplant on her right eye in 2013 and was able to see clearly out of both eyes for the first time in many years. As a result of her good fortune, Carmen decided to designate herself as a donor on her driver’s license.

Carmen’s husband, Angel “Bob” Perez, was impressed by the ease of the cornea transplant experience and wanted to become more involved. He became a trustee of the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley in 2009 and served as Chairman of the Board in 2016.

Carmen is now able to spend time with her husband, three sons, three daughters-in-law and grandchildren and not miss a moment. She is very involved in her church community, volunteering as a Eucharistic -minister and taking communion to the sick at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey. She wakes up each morning grateful for the donors and their families who made her vision possible. “It is so wonderful and generous when people think to donate,” she said. “It’s a hard time for them, but they still put others first.”

To anyone who needs a cornea transplant, Carmen urges them not to be afraid about the surgery.  “Nerves are normal,” she explained. “But it will completely turn your life around. I can now take care of my grandchildren and watch them grow up. It truly is a miracle.”

This week for Favorite Friend Friday we will be highlighting Gift of Life’s Multicultural Outreach Coordinator, Leslie Jean-Mary. For the past six years Leslie has helped to provide education and awareness around organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation.

Forming partner relations is in Leslie’s blood. Prior to coming on board with Gift of Life, she was the Family and Community Relations Partnership Manager at Camden County Head Start Program. When she saw the posting for Gift of Life’s Multicultural Outreach Coordinator, it was a no-brainer. “The whole idea of outreach” Leslie explains, “is to connect with partners that can help us reach the masses.”

With National Minority Donor Awareness Month (NMDAM) kicking off this coming weekend, we were eager to connect with Leslie to learn more about her role in connecting with minority groups in the community. NMDAM, founded in 1996, used to just be one day of awareness, but eventually transitioned to a week-long event, and now 2020 is the first year that the entire month of August will be dedicated to this cause. NMDAM is a collaborative initiative of the National Organ, Eye and Tissue Donation Multicultural Action Group. Its goal is to save and improve the quality of life of diverse communities by creating a positive culture for organ, eye and tissue donation.

The three main goals of this month are to:

  1. Provide education about organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation
  2. Encourage donor registration and family conversations about donation
  3. Promote healthy living and disease prevention to decrease the need for transplantation

“All demographics usually have the same three false beliefs or myths when it comes to donation,” Leslie explains. “People feel as though if they are registered as donors, the medical community will not save them, or that it’s against their religion, or that they are too sick or old to be a donor. All of this is simply not true.” Leslie’s job is to get in front of communities, at their places of worship, school, or community health centers. “Historically, the leader of your house of faith acts as your counselor. So, if we can conduct presentations during service or a special event, and communities can see their leader supporting donation, it’s incredibly impactful.”

Leslie finds that the most impactful part of an outreach presentation or event are the real-life first-hand stories relayed by recipients and donor families. “That’s when it really starts to click for people,” she says. “It’s so important to provide the education and the opportunity for people to ask questions. You’d be surprised how many people will stand up in an audience and say, ‘I’m a kidney recipient,’ I received a heart transplant,’ ‘I donated my loved one’s organs.’”

 For Leslie, the cherry on top of an awesome presentation or event is when people come up at the end to sign up to be a donor on the spot.

The month of August will be filled with some in-person and lots of virtual community events for National Minority Donor Awareness Month. Thanks to Leslie, we will be sharing the links to various FB Lives, podcasts, and virtual town halls that she has helped to facilitate. We cannot wait to help advocate and support next month, and all year long.

This week is a special Favorite Friend Friday featuring LEBDV’s new Chair of the Board of Trustees, PDG Earl Groendyke! Earl has been a part of the Lion’s Club since 1983 and has held various important positions during his time as a Lion. He has served as both Vice President and President of his local Lion’s Club, and eventually became a District Governor. After his time as District Governor, Earl became part of Lions Eye Research Foundation to help raise money for the research of eye diseases. Earl describes his fellow Lions as being very dedicated and supportive of each other and loves to be surrounded by such great people.

Earl was initially drawn into the Lion’s Club by his two brothers. They are both visually impaired and have some struggles with everyday life like being unable to obtain a driver’s license. He is proud to be part of an organization that can help individuals gain the gift of sight. Earl considers the most inspiring aspect of his work to be hearing the personal stories of both donors and transplant recipients. He believes there is a greater force than people can comprehend that creates the donor and transplant recipient relationships. Earl hopes that donation, especially cornea transplants, will receive more awareness and individuals will not take their sight for granted.

Earl is very excited for his transition from Board Member to Chair of the Board. While he is aware of the upcoming challenges that Covid-19 has brought to procedures at LEBDV, he is confident that with his talented Board Members and the amazing staff, there is nothing the Eye Bank cannot do.

When he is not working with the Lions, Earl enjoys spending time with his family, including his wife, two daughters, and four grandchildren. He is passionate about cars and has been the president of the Dodge Brothers Club for the past four years. Earl was in the Marine Reserves for six years and attained the rank of Sergeant. He spent most of his career as a mason, eventually becoming a Master Mason, and even opened his own business for masonry work in 1979.

Being a Lion is about leading by example, building relationships and improving the world through kindness; Earl Groendyke definitely embodies all of these characteristics, and we are so honored to have him as the next Chair of the Board!

Thank you for all you do, Earl!

Written by Tara Korch

We are so honored to introduce Vicki Piccotti,an active part of LEBDV and a cornea transplant recipient, as this week’s Favorite Friend Friday! Vicki is a caring and compassionate individual which is exemplified through her dedication to her two children and life-long career as a registered nurse. Vicki worked for 45 years in various medical environments such as a senior care facility, a family practice and as a nurse at the school her children attended. Vicki is a talented skier and previously taught ski lessons at Shawnee Mountain. Currently, she is a part of Big Boulder Mountain’s ski patrol.

Vicki struggled with a virus infection in her left eye for many years and received consistent treatment for it. In 2011, she found out her cornea was so thin it could rupture, and had her first transplant scheduled within weeks. With no recovery issues, the first surgery went smoothly and her vision improved to 20/20 post surgery. A year later, Vicki had cataract surgery. In 2017, the infection came back, and Vicki had a partial transplant done; the second transplant proved to be a more difficult recovery, which led to Vicki’s third transplant in 2018. Although it was another challenging recovery process, serum tears—eye drops made from one’s own plasma—helped heal her eye after the third transplant.

Vicki is a strong and resilient woman who has embraced the challenges of her long transplant journey. There were many difficulties within her second and third transplant, but she did not let that affect her spirit. After her second transplant, Vicki went straight to Switzerland to ski the alps, despite having her eyelid glued shut for healing! Although she still struggles with her depth perception and driving in the dark, Vicki’s vision is mostly back to normal.

Vicki learned about Lion’s Eye Bank through her incredible eye surgeon, Dr. Hannush. After visiting the office for a tour, she was able to find information about her donor and saw the process come full circle. Vicki is so inspired by the incredible work accomplished at Lion’s Eye Bank and was especially impressed by the touching story of LEBDV providing cornea tissue to Simeon Edwards in Jamaica.

Vicki and her family try to support Lion’s Eye Bank whenever possible. She went to Salt Lake City in 2018 for the Transplant Games of America; the best part of Vicki’s experience was meeting people from around the world and across the country while spreading the positive effects that are the result of organ donation and transplantation. During the games, Vicki and her husband won six gol medals and two silver medals for ballroom dancing!

Understanding the importance of saying “yes” to organ donations, Vicki wants the community to know that although it is devastating when a loved one passes away, that person will live on by giving someone else the gift of sight or even life. Vicki is extremely grateful to her donor and her donor family for saying “yes” to donation during such a difficult time. Being a life-long health care worker, Vicki is certainly pro-donation and encourages everyone to speak up about eye, tissue and organ donation.

We are so honored to introduce Vicki Picotti,an active part of LEBDV and a cornea transplant recipient, as this week’s Favorite Friend Friday! Vicki is a caring and compassionate individual which is exemplified through her dedication to her two children and life-long career as a registered nurse. Vicki worked for 45 years in various medical environments such as a senior care facility, a family practice and as a nurse at the school her children attended. Vicki is a talented skier and previously taught ski lessons at Shawnee Mountain. Currently, she is a part of Big Boulder Mountain’s ski patrol.

Vicki struggled with a virus infection in her left eye for many years and received consistent treatment for it. In 2011, she found out her cornea was so thin it could rupture, and had her first transplant scheduled within weeks. With no recovery issues, the first surgery went smoothly and her vision improved to 20/20 post surgery. A year later, Vicki had cataract surgery. In 2017, the infection came back, and Vicki had a partial transplant done; the second transplant proved to be a more difficult recovery, which led to Vicki’s third transplant in 2018. Although it was another challenging recovery process, serum tears—eye drops made from one’s own plasma—helped heal her eye after the third transplant.

Vicki is a strong and resilient woman who has embraced the challenges of her long transplant journey. There were many difficulties within her second and third transplant, but she did not let that affect her spirit. After her second transplant, Vicki went straight to Switzerland to ski the alps, despite having her eyelid glued shut for healing! Although she still struggles with her depth perception and driving in the dark, Vicki’s vision is mostly back to normal.

Vicki learned about Lion’s Eye Bank through her incredible eye surgeon, Dr. Hannush. After visiting the office for a tour, she was able to find information about her donor and saw the process come full circle. Vicki is so inspired by the incredible work accomplished at Lion’s Eye Bank and was especially impressed by the touching story of LEBDV providing cornea tissue to Simeon Edwards in Jamaica.

Vicki and her family try to support Lion’s Eye Bank whenever possible. She went to Salt Lake City in 2018 for the Transplant Games of America; the best part of Vicki’s experience was meeting people from around the world and across the country while spreading the positive effects that are the result of organ donation and transplantation. During the games, Vicki and her husband won six gol medals and two silver medals for ballroom dancing!

Understanding the importance of saying “yes” to organ donations, Vicki wants the community to know that although it is devastating when a loved one passes away, that person will live on by giving someone else the gift of sight or even life. Vicki is extremely grateful to her donor and her donor family for saying “yes” to donation during such a difficult time. Being a life-long health care worker, Vicki is certainly pro-donation and encourages everyone to speak up about eye, tissue and organ donation.

 

Written by Tara Korch

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Monday, August 12th, 2019