Cornea Donation and Transplantation Brings New Connection to Lifelong Friends

Donor Tom White and recipient Lynn Hauser
Cornea Donation and Transplantation Brings New Connection to Lifelong Friends
Gift of Sight

“I know who my donor is.”

These were the first words cornea recipient Lynn Hauser said during a phone call to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank family services coordinator, Deb Schuett. Throughout her ten years as family services coordinator, Deb has had very few calls where a recipient believed to know their donor, and never were their suspicions correct.

Following this particular phone call, Deb reviewed the details of Lynn’s cornea transplant performed in December 2017 and verified that he was right. Lynn had correctly identified his donor as Pamela White, the wife of one of Lynn’s oldest friends, Tom White.

Tom and Lynn grew up just six blocks from each other in Davenport, Iowa, attended the same schools and played baseball together. They have maintained a lifelong friendship and both enjoy giving back to their community.

In early 2017, Lynn traveled to El Salvador where he contracted a fast growing infection that invaded the cornea of his left eye. As soon as he returned to the United States, he was treated at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Cornea and External Eye Disease Clinic. Despite aggressive treatment with hourly eye drops, the severe infection quickly robbed him of the sight in his left eye. He was then referred to the Department of Ophthalmology at the VA Medical Center in Iowa City, where he was told by Dr. Michael Wagoner that a cornea transplant was his only option. Lynn’s transplant was successful. According to Lynn, the improvement in his vision “blew his doctors away.” The donor cornea he received was flawless.

Not long after his transplant surgery, Lynn visited Tom at the Davenport bar and grill Tom owns. As the two were catching up on each other’s lives, Lynn learned that while he was in El Salvador, Tom’s wife passed away following a brief illness and was a registered organ, eye, and tissue donor. She “was always thinking of others,” according to Tom.

As part of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank’s family services program, every donor family receives a letter sharing the outcome of their loved ones gift through eye donation. Tom received his letter two weeks after his wife’s death and learned that one of her recipients was a 72-year-old male. Tom shared this letter with his friend and the two of them started to wonder if it was possible that Lynn was that 72-year-old male recipient since his cornea transplant occurred six days after her death.

As a cornea transplant recipient, Lynn received a packet from the eye bank at his surgery with a card and instructions encouraging him to write a thank you note to his donor’s family, To maintain confidentiality, these written letters of gratitude are mailed to the eye bank’s family services coordinator and then forwarded to the proper donor family member.

The final piece to this puzzle fell in place when Tom received a recipient thank you note in the mail where the last line read, “No amount of gratitude can ever be enough to thank you for this loving gift. Love, Lynn.” Pamela was indeed Lynn’s donor and had provided him the precious gift of restored sight.

Although Tom and Lynn were both amazed by their discovery, it seemed destiny had given them yet another connection; Lynn shares in Tom’s grief over the loss of his wife while Tom shares in Lynn’s joy of restored sight.

Watch as Tom and Lynn share their story with WQAD Channel 8.