This week’s Favorite Friend Friday is a recipient we first met when she reached out to her donor’s family. Julie Hart, from Dowingtown, PA, is a mom of three and a software test engineer. Fittingly enough, she is also the daughter of Lion Charlie Hennessey from the Eagleville-Trooper Lions Club. Her life took a turn she would never forget in March of 2015.

“I scratched my cornea while using contacts which caused an ulcer in my eye,” Julie recalls. She started out at her local ophthalmologist but was soon referred to a corneal specialist in West Chester. Her regimen of constant eye drops continued to no avail, and was finally sent to Wills Eye Hospital in June 2015 where she was officially diagnosed with acanthamoeba, a rare corneal disease.

By the time Julie got to Wills Eye, the infection had been persisting for three months already. “I had no vision out of my left eye,” Julie remembers of that time. “Prior to my infection I was driving a school bus part time, but now I had to stay at home. I was so sensitive to light—I couldn’t go outside, be on the computer, watch TV. I no longer could do any of the things I used to enjoy. It was debilitating.”

Almost a year after the initial infection, in February of 2016, Julie received a cornea transplant in her left eye. Since then, she has been able to get back to a normal routine, spending time with her family and friends, and going back to work. We are all so excited to have her as our guest speaker at District 14-P’s Sight Night next month!

“Don’t hesitate to think about donating,” Julie says as she thinks about the selfless gift a stranger gave to her. “It is so valuable and so appreciated.”

This week’s Favorite Friend Friday is a celebrity in the world of ophthalmology. Any patient of Chris Rapuano, MD can attest to his incredible work ethic, personality, and skills. Dr. Rapuano has been a member of the Medical Advisory Board of Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley since 1991. He attended college at Brown University, medical school at Columbia University, completed his residency at Wills Eye Hospital from 1987-1990 and a Corneal Fellowship at the University of Iowa from 1990 to 1991.  Since 1991 he has been on staff in the cornea department at Wills Eye Hospital. He is Chief of the Cornea Service at Wills Eye Hospital and a Professor of Ophthalmology at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. He is also the author of several books, numerous book chapters, and more than 150 articles in the peer-reviewed literature on corneal disease, refractive surgery, and excimer laser PTK surgery. During his ophthalmology residency, Dr. Rapuano co-authored the best-selling textbook in ophthalmology, The Wills Eye Manual. 

 

I had the pleasure of getting to sit down with Dr. Rapuano last week to learn a little more about his life and work. This is hist story:

 

“Growing up, no one in my family was a Doctor, so I didn’t know much about the medical field. My father was a Dentist, he liked being able to fix things and take care of problems, so going into medical school I thought I wanted to be a surgeon. By my third year of school however, I knew that ophthalmology was for me.” Dr. Rapuano explains when asked if he always knew he wanted to be an ophthalmologist.

 

Not all ophthalmologists come to specialize in corneas and go on to be the Chief of the Cornea Service Department. Dr Rapuano explains that there were two specific things that drew him to corneas. “First off, you could just look at the slit lamp and see what was going on with a cornea. You didn’t need a lot of other testing or dilating. I appreciated the visual analysis cornea docs could do to make a diagnosis. Second, I liked the delicacy of cornea surgery and the positive results for patients afterward.”

 

Continuing with the idea of positive patient results, Dr. Rapuano explains exactly what it is that makes his job so rewarding. “As cornea surgeons, we have the ability to change people’s lives, sometimes quickly and sometimes not as quickly. From removing the corneal opacity from a baby to treating corneal swelling from Fuchs dystrophy to performing emergency corneal transplant for a severe infection or cornea perforation, we can make a real and lasting difference. That’s why I come to work every day.”

 

A large part of Dr. Rapuano’s job is working with and treating young children born with various eye disorders, one being Peters Anomaly. “The kids that we treat are a very special group. They are the most appreciating and satisfying patients to work with but are also some of the most heartbreaking when the surgeries don’t work out.” Dr. Rapuano tells the story of a young boy he first met at 3 months old who he worked with for many years. Eventually it became apparent that his vision was not going to improve at all, and he still remembers this 8 or 9 year old’s response when Dr. Levin gave him this news. The young patient replied, “It’s OK, I’m so happy for what you’ve done because I’ve been able to see my mother’s beautiful face for the past 5 years.”

 

When Dr. Rapuano is not improving lives and restoring vision, he is spending time with his wife and kids. He has four children, 3 boys and a girl, all of whom have worked either at his office or at Wills at some point in their lives. His second oldest son Pat, actually worked for a summer in High School as a recovery technician for LEBDV, and is going to be starting his residency at Wills Eye this July! His wife Sara has been helping out with Give Kids Sight Day at Wills Eye for about ten years, and now fully runs the event.

From all of us at Lions Eye Bank, and all of your patients, thank you so much for all that you do Dr. Rapuano, you are so appreciated!

 

This week for Favorite Friend Friday we have the honor of sharing the story of Rickey Colomy Jr. 3rd. Rickey was a bright light and a beacon of hope for everyone whose path he crossed. We will always remember his life and legacy. Over the years we have grown very close with Rickey’s mom, Dawn Ortiz. The story shared below is an excerpt from our interview with her a few years ago. We thought this would be a meaningful and impactful way to begin the New Year. This is Rickey’s story:

Remembering Rickey

“If this could help another child to not have to go through what I do than let’s do it,” Dawn remembers hearing Rickey say. “Where and when” was Rickey’s philosophy as he offered his blood, saliva and time participating in research studies at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “He was always thinking about other people and never expected anything in return,” says Dawn.

Richard Scott Colomy Jr. 3rd, who everyone called Rickey, was born with vascular malformation. As part of Rickey’s life-long care at CHOP, he had endless doctor’s appointments, follow-up visits, surgeries and therapies.

“Something that impressed me about my son was that nobody knew he was sick. If you didn’t know his circumstances, you would never know. With as much as Rickey had gone through, intense and invasive surgeries, it can take a toll on someone’s body and mind but he always smiled. I think that’s what always captivated people. The nurses and surgical coordinators would say that his smile was infectious.”

On January 13, 2015 Rickey had surgery number 18. It took longer than expected. When he was finally in recovery, Rickey came out smiling, but seemed concerned. “He told me that something was different, but couldn’t explain what it was.”

As part of recovery, Rickey was on injections twice a day. He was sore, but that was to be expected. One to never sit around, Rickey began leaving the house again.  He went out to visit his girlfriend and called to check in that night. “I said I love you buddy. He said I love you too Momma”, recalls Dawn. “That was the last time I talked to my son.”

Rickey suffered from a pulmonary embolism and passed away in the middle of the night.

Rickey had a wide range of friends. He never judged people. He accepted everyone. “I didn’t realize how many people relied on Rickey,” Dawn recalled. “There was a young lady that Rickey was friends with since grade school. Her family didn’t have a lot of money and her medication would upset her stomach. She would get nauseous from taking her medication on an empty stomach and so she wouldn’t take it. This young girl truly needed her medication. I found out later that Rickey would bring this girl chips and soda every day to homeroom to make sure she would take her medicine. He had a profound impact on that young lady.”

Rickey was a beautiful, kind and caring soul. Before Rickey passed away he introduced his mother to his friend’s father. “He kept asking me to go out with him, I remember thinking what is wrong with him,” recalls Dawn. After attempting to cancel on a coffee date, Rickey pleaded that she go. John made Dawn the happiest she had been in a long time and Rickey loved him. “Rickey introduced me to my husband,” says Dawn. “He made sure that I was taken care of before he left.”

Dawn honored her son’s wishes to donate his corneas. “It was his decision that he made solely on his own,” says Dawn, “I wasn’t surprised he wanted to be a donor. I couldn’t be more proud, I couldn’t be more pleased. Giving back is Richard.” Rickey’s eyes saved the sight for two individuals.

“Child loss will truly rip you from everything that you are.  It’s been a long journey I but I continue to hear Richard in my ear because after every surgery that Richard would have which was very intense and very invasive,  I would always say to him you don’t give up you keep fighting you keep going and that is what I keep hearing in my head. ‘Don’t give up keep fighting you’re not a quitter.’ And the days when I feel like I can’t get out of bed those are the words that I hear. It’s hard, I do struggle, but then I think of Richard and I know I have to get up today.”

Happy last Friday of 2019! We thought it would be appropriate to not just highlight one individual today, but rather, shine a spotlight on all of the constituents—recipients, donor families, Lions, Board Members, surgeons, staff, and all the volunteers who make up and support the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley family. Without your time, support, and love, we would not be able to do all that we do every single day. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for assisting in so many different ways in helping to restore peoples’ sight.

This year was truly a great one, from sight-saving transplants overseas in Guatemala, Africa, Ecuador, and Jamaica, to our own backyard, and countless events and community activities, we are so grateful for all that 2019 has brought this organization, and cannot wait for what the new decade has in store.

In 2019 we helped to coordinate almost 1,000 sight-saving cornea transplants. Over 885 of these transplants were performed within our local Delaware Valley. Thanks to the generosity of financial donors, we were able to help facilitate over 132 Gratis Tissue Transplants, both locally and internationally, because a person’s ability to pay should never be a barrier to their ability to see.  

We hope you look back with fond memories at all the photos attached, and that they get you excited for all the events to come in 2020. Attached are photos from the Recipient Luncheon, Sight Night, Donor Dash, Lions Conventions, the Annual Meeting, Gift of Sight Charity Golf Classic, Gift of Sight Awareness Day at Citizens Bank Park, Give Kids Sight Day at Wills Eye, the Endowment Brunch, tours of our Eye Bank, and more.

If you are interested in becoming more involved in our organization, or would like to hear about all of our 2020 events (there’s a lot of them!), please send us a message on Facebook, or an email to alex@lebdv.org. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Today’s Favorite Friend Friday highlights another one of our younger friends. You might remember Kacey Heisler from our 2015 issue of forSight. Kacey was just a baby when we featured her story and interviewed her family. Now all these years later, she is about to celebrate her sixth birthday on January 10, and we feel so lucky to get to watch this amazing young lady grow up!

When Kacey was born, her parents, Kristin and Kenny, noticed something different about her eyes. “Kacey wasn’t doing the normal eye movements that newborns do. When we took Kacey to her first month pediatrician appointment, her doctor recommended we see a specialist,” Kristin recalls. 

Upon further examination at Wills Eye Hospital, pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Levin, determined that Kacey was born with a rare eye disease called Peter’s Anomaly. At only four months old, thanks to LEBDV’s Gratis Tissue Program, Kacey received a corneal transplant in each eye. 

Fast forward over five and a half years later, and Kacey is getting ready for Winter Break as a Kindergarten student. And she has a lot to celebrate as this year comes to an end. Kacey was just awarded Student of the Month by her teacher Mrs. Agatone!

To celebrate Kacey and all of her accomplishments, here are a few fun facts about the soon-to-be six year old to get to know her a little better:

Her favorite class in school currently is Computer Class. She loves learning with ABC Mouse, an online educational platform. When she is not in school learning and exploring, she loves to spend time playing with her friends. Kacey and her big sister Kiley love to play Roblox together. Her favorite food is her Poppop’s Mac and Cheese, her favorite color is teal, and her favorite animals are bunnies “because they are so cute and furry.”

As a young infant born blind, Kacey’s parents had no idea what her future would look like. Thankfully today she is a bright, curious Kindergartner capable of doing absolutely whatever she sets her mind to. “Saying ‘yes’ to being an eye, tissue or organ donor is so important,” Kristin says. “It helps so many people, and it really is so much more than the gift of sight. You never know if or when someone you love might need it.”

 This week for Favorite Friend Friday, we are featuring a special someone who we have known and loved for almost nine years! Eight year old Peyton Barkalow (turning nine a week from today!) is a sweet, compassionate, successful third grade student. When he was born however, his parents were unsure what his life would be like.

“Peyton was one day old when he was diagnosed,” Tracey Barkalow recalls. “We immediately received condolences, lots of pamphlets, information on how to obtain money for transportation and eyeglasses—but that’s not what we needed. No one could tell us how to make our son’s vision as normal as possible.”

Peyton was born with a congenital eye condition called Peter’s Anomaly. Babies with this rare condition have central cornea cloudiness, for which surgical intervention is usually needed as soon as medically possible. Peyton’s condition affected both eyes, and at just 6 months old, he had his first (of 4) cornea transplant surgeries.

Flash-forward to December 2019 and Peyton has useable vision in both eyes, received straight A’s on his most recent Report Card, and is about to celebrate his ninth birthday! He is taking Creative Writing, learning Calligraphy, studying History, and doing just about everything a normal 9 year old boy can do!

“We just want to say thank you to Lions Eye Bank for helping us help our son and to the families who donated corneas,” Jimmy says. “Because of their generosity, our family and Peyton are vert fortunate. Thank you.”

Peyton and his family attend as many LEBDV events as possible, showing their support at Golf, the Phillies Game, and the Recipient Luncheon, just to name a few. He has also had the chance to speak on the topic of donation and share his story at an Eye Bank Association of America event.

Peyton is wise beyond his years, well aware where his Gift of Sight comes from, and thankful for it every single day. Last month his teachers gave the class a writing assignment to discuss the things in their life they are thankful for. Peyton wrote: “I am thankful for my family, my community, and Lions Eye Bank…I’m thankful for Lions Eye Bank because they help me with my eyesight.”

And we are so thankful for you Peyton! Happy almost birthday!

For this week’s Favorite Friend Friday, we are featuring one of our surgeons who has devoted his life not only to giving back to his local community but to people all over the world. Herbert J. Ingraham, MD, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Director of Geisinger Eye Institute is passionate about giving back to impoverished populations suffering high rates of blindness.

Dr. Ingraham has a special appreciation for the work he does because right before his sixteenth birthday he received a corneal transplant himself. “I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do. Without my transplant, none of this would be possible.”

As a resident, Dr. Ingraham always had international work in the back of his mind, but there weren’t programs in place for it like there are today. “When my daughters were in college, they started going on mission trips, and it reminded me of my passion. I realized I had a shrinking window to do it in, so when I was in my late 40s, I realized it was now or never.”

It is difficult to believe that a routine surgery in the United States that helps restore someone’s vision is unavailable in many countries around the world. Not only is there a startling shortage of ophthalmologists to perform surgery, there is also a shortage of corneal graft tissue. When I spoke with Dr. Ingraham earlier this week he had just returned from his latest mission trip to Nepal and Northern India. He tries to bring his residents there with him yearly depending on the physical and political conditions. “It’s a good experience for the residents,” he explains. “You hope if you plant the seed now, maybe not immediately, but a few years down the road, they will remember this experience and want to give back.”

Just two months prior, Dr. Ingraham traveled back to Gauaqyuil, Ecuador, a country he visits frequently. During this trip he and his team performed 16 corneal transplants and 40 cataract surgeries over the course of four days. A large part of why Guayaquil is so special to Dr. Ingraham is working with Eddie Icaza, MD, Medical Director of FUNCRISA, a general clinic for the residents of Guayaquil. While Dr. Ingraham assisted Dr. Icaza with performing cornea transplant surgery, he states that he learned just as much from the local Doctor as Dr. Icaza did from him.

“There are few things in life more satisfying than restoring someone’s sight, especially someone who has been told, because of where they live and their socio-economic status and their disease, that there is no hope for them.  And teaching another physician who can continue that work when I’m back home, that is even more satisfying,” says Dr. Ingraham.

“The number of surgeries I can perform on each mission trip is limited by the number of corneas I can bring from the US,” Dr. Ingraham explains. “I have been profoundly grateful to LEBDV for both the number and quality of corneas the Eye Bank has provided. They are such a wonderful organization that supports so many people right here in our own backyard, as well as across the globe.”

We’ll close off this Favorite Friend Friday article with a Helen Keller quote that Dr. Ingraham ends many of his emails with: “When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” –Helen Keller.

Thank you Dr. Ingraham, for all that you do within our community, and around the world!

This week’s Favorite Friend Friday is most definitely a face that you have seen before. A corneal transplant recipient, Delaware native, and national ambassador for Eye Donation Month, it only seemed appropriate to feature Cameron Whittle once again as today marks the official start of National Eye Donation Month.

 National Eye Donation Month, proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, is used by the Eye Bank Association of America as an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of registering to be a donor, about cornea donation and transplantation, and to acknowledge the important work of eye banks. This year’s campaign is centered around the theme, “The Power of You,” which acknowledges the entire community of people who are involved in the journey of sight restoration. The campaign demonstrates the “power” that individuals have in building hope, restoring sight and changing lives, including healthcare professionals and partners, researchers, eye bank staff, corneal surgeons, recipients and donor families, and YOU.

Throughout the month of November, we will be featuring stories of recipients, donor families, eye bank staff, surgeons, and other individuals who play a crucial role in the eye donation process. Make sure you are following us on Facebook (Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley) and Instagram (@lionseyebankdelawarevalley) to keep up with all National Eye Donation Month has to offer! Follow along with the official hashtags of Eye Donation Month as well, #eyedonationmonth, #eyedonationmonth2019.

Cameron Whittle began experiencing visual difficulties including, photosensitivity, eye irritation, drainage and swelling at the early age of three. At age 13, Cameron was diagnosed with keratoconus. His initial treatment for this was wearing eyeglasses to correct his sight followed by special contacts. Keratoconus is a disease that affects the cornea, which is the clear, dome-shaped tissue covering the front of the eye. It results when the cornea’s dome bulges outward into the shape of a cone.  Over the course of time, the disease led to vision loss and corneal tissue scarring. In June of 2014, Cameron had his corneal transplant surgery and regained vision in his left eye.

He is now in his junior year at Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, DE. Cameron believes in paying it forward and honors his cornea donor by volunteering at Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley and being an advocate for cornea donation. During the 2016 Transplant Games of America held in Cleveland, OH, Cameron took first place in the 1,500 meter race! He will most likely be back for more at the 2020 Transplant Games this summer in the Meadowlands, NJ.

Cameron and his family express eternal gratitude to the donor who made the selfless decision to donate their cornea. “Being a cornea and organ donor is so important. My donor now lives on through me,” Cameron says. He will be honoring his donor and their family, along with many others at the Delaware Life & Legacy Celebration on Sunday, November 10. In 2016 Cameron wrote to his donor family saying:

Dear Donor Family,

 

The past two years have been such a wonderful and grateful experience. Your loved one gave me sight again and that’s one of the greatest things on earth. I have my license and can drive now. It is my senior year at Newark Charter High School. Without the help of your loved one, I wouldn’t be able to have a license, car, complete high school and now be going to college.

 

Sincerely, Cameron

 

Thank you Cameron for all that you do to support LEBDV and our mission to restore sight in the Delaware Valley; we don’t know what we’d do without you!

Friday, February 07, 2020

This week’s Favorite Friend Friday is a recipient we first met when she reached out to her donor’s family. Julie Hart, from Dowingtown, PA, is a mom of three and a software test engineer. Fittingly enough, she is also the daughter of Lion Charlie Hennessey from the Eagleville-Trooper Lions Club. Her life took a turn she would never forget in March of 2015.

“I scratched my cornea while using contacts which caused an ulcer in my eye,” Julie recalls. She started out at her local ophthalmologist but was soon referred to a corneal specialist in West Chester. Her regimen of constant eye drops continued to no avail, and was finally sent to Wills Eye Hospital in June 2015 where she was officially diagnosed with acanthamoeba, a rare corneal disease.

By the time Julie got to Wills Eye, the infection had been persisting for three months already. “I had no vision out of my left eye,” Julie remembers of that time. “Prior to my infection I was driving a school bus part time, but now I had to stay at home. I was so sensitive to light—I couldn’t go outside, be on the computer, watch TV. I no longer could do any of the things I used to enjoy. It was debilitating.”

Almost a year after the initial infection, in February of 2016, Julie received a cornea transplant in her left eye. Since then, she has been able to get back to a normal routine, spending time with her family and friends, and going back to work. We are all so excited to have her as our guest speaker at District 14-P’s Sight Night next month!

“Don’t hesitate to think about donating,” Julie says as she thinks about the selfless gift a stranger gave to her. “It is so valuable and so appreciated.”

Friday, January 17, 2020

This week’s Favorite Friend Friday is a celebrity in the world of ophthalmology. Any patient of Chris Rapuano, MD can attest to his incredible work ethic, personality, and skills. Dr. Rapuano has been a member of the Medical Advisory Board of Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley since 1991. He attended college at Brown University, medical school at Columbia University, completed his residency at Wills Eye Hospital from 1987-1990 and a Corneal Fellowship at the University of Iowa from 1990 to 1991.  Since 1991 he has been on staff in the cornea department at Wills Eye Hospital. He is Chief of the Cornea Service at Wills Eye Hospital and a Professor of Ophthalmology at Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. He is also the author of several books, numerous book chapters, and more than 150 articles in the peer-reviewed literature on corneal disease, refractive surgery, and excimer laser PTK surgery. During his ophthalmology residency, Dr. Rapuano co-authored the best-selling textbook in ophthalmology, The Wills Eye Manual. 

 

I had the pleasure of getting to sit down with Dr. Rapuano last week to learn a little more about his life and work. This is hist story:

 

“Growing up, no one in my family was a Doctor, so I didn’t know much about the medical field. My father was a Dentist, he liked being able to fix things and take care of problems, so going into medical school I thought I wanted to be a surgeon. By my third year of school however, I knew that ophthalmology was for me.” Dr. Rapuano explains when asked if he always knew he wanted to be an ophthalmologist.

 

Not all ophthalmologists come to specialize in corneas and go on to be the Chief of the Cornea Service Department. Dr Rapuano explains that there were two specific things that drew him to corneas. “First off, you could just look at the slit lamp and see what was going on with a cornea. You didn’t need a lot of other testing or dilating. I appreciated the visual analysis cornea docs could do to make a diagnosis. Second, I liked the delicacy of cornea surgery and the positive results for patients afterward.”

 

Continuing with the idea of positive patient results, Dr. Rapuano explains exactly what it is that makes his job so rewarding. “As cornea surgeons, we have the ability to change people’s lives, sometimes quickly and sometimes not as quickly. From removing the corneal opacity from a baby to treating corneal swelling from Fuchs dystrophy to performing emergency corneal transplant for a severe infection or cornea perforation, we can make a real and lasting difference. That’s why I come to work every day.”

 

A large part of Dr. Rapuano’s job is working with and treating young children born with various eye disorders, one being Peters Anomaly. “The kids that we treat are a very special group. They are the most appreciating and satisfying patients to work with but are also some of the most heartbreaking when the surgeries don’t work out.” Dr. Rapuano tells the story of a young boy he first met at 3 months old who he worked with for many years. Eventually it became apparent that his vision was not going to improve at all, and he still remembers this 8 or 9 year old’s response when Dr. Levin gave him this news. The young patient replied, “It’s OK, I’m so happy for what you’ve done because I’ve been able to see my mother’s beautiful face for the past 5 years.”

 

When Dr. Rapuano is not improving lives and restoring vision, he is spending time with his wife and kids. He has four children, 3 boys and a girl, all of whom have worked either at his office or at Wills at some point in their lives. His second oldest son Pat, actually worked for a summer in High School as a recovery technician for LEBDV, and is going to be starting his residency at Wills Eye this July! His wife Sara has been helping out with Give Kids Sight Day at Wills Eye for about ten years, and now fully runs the event.

From all of us at Lions Eye Bank, and all of your patients, thank you so much for all that you do Dr. Rapuano, you are so appreciated!

 

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