Cath - corneal recipient, ACT
At just nine years of age, Catherine started losing her eyesight due to keratoconus and was told she may one day need a corneal transplant.
By age 12 schoolwork had become a struggle, to see the board she had to sit in the front centre desk in the class. Her only option back then, was to use hard contact lenses.
“With the severely distorted shape of my eye, the lenses often popped out and were uncomfortable,” Catherine said. “This made a lot of activities difficult. Even with contacts my vision was limited and I wasn’t able to see any detail.”
Corneal transplantation isn’t always a smooth ride. Catherine has had a number of corneal transplants and two sclerokeratoplasty procedures. She’s waiting on another corneal transplant to hopefully restore sight again in her right eye.
But Catherine’s gratitude for her eye tissue donors is unwavering. “The first time I received a donation I was curious and grateful, but I don’t think I understood the enormity of the gift,” Catherine said.
“I was told my second cornea came from a 28-year-old male who died in a car accident. I was 16 and have never forgotten the image I have of who that person was and what I think he looked like – and I always add that 12 years age difference on to my cornea.
“With my more recent transplants I found it more difficult emotionally, I thought constantly of a grieving family, but I’ve since learned from a friend that many families take comfort in giving the gift. I choose now to accept my gift graciously and with a lot of thanks every day.”
Catherine said despite needing more than one transplant in each eye she’s always been grateful for each gift. “I didn’t regain sight in my left eye, but I’ve had 30+ years of sight in my right eye that’s enabled me to drive, travel, work and raise a family,” she said. “I loved backpacking around the world for two years, I could never have done that without the transplants. I also love that I know what my children look like.”
Catherine remembers when her family received the first call back in 1981 that a cornea match had been found. “I grew up in a small rural town, then about a five-hour drive from Sydney,” she said. “When we arrived and checked into the eye hospital, we found out there was a problem finding someone to do the retrieval from the donor. My surgeon went and retrieved the corneas personally and my surgery went ahead as planned.
“I was so young when this all started happening that the transplants have always factored into life decisions. Without them my choices would have been very limited.”
Cath is the president of Gift of Life, a not-for-profit association based in Canberra which aims to promote greater community awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation and transplantation in the ACT and surrounding region as well as nationally in order to save many more Australian lives.