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.”