To Give And To Receive

Two Stories About Organ Donation

By Amy Carlson, NBC 15 Weekend Anchor | Photo by Valerie Tobias

At 18, Anne Otter learned that she was going blind because of kerotoconus, a progressive eye disease in which the cornea begins to bulge into a cone-like shape. By age 27, a corneal transplant was the only option to restore her vision.

She had a corneal implant done in March 1990 on one eye, then received a second implant the following year.

Otter recalls walking down the hallway of the Davis Duehr Dean eye clinic after the surgery and being impressed by the array of quilts that lined the hallway. She discovered that the quilts were made by volunteers for Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, a nonprofit dedicated to recovery and transplantation of donor eye tissue, along with research into the treatment of eye diseases.

Otter set about learning to quilt, and now helps assemble donor squares into full-size quilts. “There is lots of guilt associated with the transplant,” Otter says. “You need something and someone else has to die for you to get it.” Quilting is one way Otter, who now works as a hospital liaison for the eye bank, can express her gratitude for the gift of sight. “I’ve been blessed by the people I meet and the people I work with. It is so humbling to meet donor families during the worst time in their lives. It’s amazing what people do with all of that love.”

Dawn Lyons Wood is sharing all of that love by promoting organ, tissue and corneal donation. Her daughter, Emily Lyons, passed away from injuries after a snowmobiling accident. She was a freshman at UW-La Crosse, studying to be an optometrist.

Wood describes Emily as the most giving, kind person. “She had an old, wise spirit with huge goals in her life,” Lyons Wood says. Emily took the pressure off her parents by making the organ, tissue and cornea donation decision on her own, including registering online.

Wood first spoke to a group just two months after Emily’s death and felt that Emily was speaking through her. She’s now a mother on a mission, speaking to driver’s education classes and training nurses at UW Hospital how to discuss donation options with grieving families.

Maybe you already have that donation sticker on your driver’s license. Take the next step: register online. In the comments section, include #emstrong. It’s just another way for Wood to know that her message about the importance of organ donation is spreading.

For more information on the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, visit lebw.org. To register as a donor, visit donatelifewisconsin.org.