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A second life through the gift of sight

By Shirley

In 1953 I was losing my sight because of the genetic condition keratoconus. A surgeon told me a graft was a risky procedure but it could be beneficial.

I had tried contact lenses but they were hard and uncomfortable, so I wore them only when I had to - on special occasions such as going to the pictures with my boyfriend.

I didn't sit down and say 'poor old me'. Facing legal blindness at the age of 21, I thought I should go for it.

The donor was believed to be aged 80. Six months after that first successful operation on my left eye, I received a second cornea in my right eye and became the first person in Australia to have two successful corneal grafts. The first cornea was replaced and had lasted two people 130 years.

Following the operations I had to lie still for days, sipping blended food so I didn't move any facial muscles. My head was packed with sandbags and I remember the dressing being removed and being asked how many fingers I could see.

The surgery opened up all sorts of new avenues for me. As a trained comptometrist (a comptometer was a forerunner of the calculator) I returned to work and gained my driver's licence. I then graduated with a Bachelor of Education majoring in textile studies and later became a Lecturer at TAFE.

At the age of 55, I learned to play the trumpet and then the French Horn, following a musical thread that ran throughout my family. I established two community bands for adults with little or no prior knowledge of music. It gave me immense pleasure and a real sense of camaraderie.

I am now quilting and doing other craft work, drawing on knowledge gained through studying graphic design and have also traced my family history.

The blessing of sight has given me a very different life.

Shirley