Donor Heroes

Donor Heroes
Gift of Sight

Charlie Hewitt from Parkersburg, Iowa, understands the gift of donation from both sides. Six years before Charlie received the gift of sight through a corneal transplant—thanks to the altruism of a deceased cornea donor—his wife, Judy Hewitt, received the gift of life through a kidney transplant. Seven years later, Judy’s living kidney donor remains her remarkable hero—and her loving husband of almost 50 years—Charlie.     

Charlie has always considered himself a healthy man, except for his long history of eye problems dating back almost four decades to when he was told by his local eye doctor that he had pre-glaucoma. Daily eye drops regulated the pressure in his eyes for many years. As time went on, laser surgery was necessary on both eyes, along with surgical removal of his cataracts. Then, a few years ago, Charlie was referred to the University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology where he underwent another surgical procedure to manage his glaucoma. Unfortunately, Charlie became one of a small percentage of patients who develop swelling in the retina post-operatively. Treatment caused one is his corneas to thicken, and he experienced frequent sharp pains in the eye, along with constant tearing. Charlie was referred to Dr. Christopher Sales, associate professor of Ophthalmology in the University of Iowa Cornea and External Eye Disease Clinic and Iowa Lions Eye Bank assistant medical director, who told him, “I can fix this.” Dr. Sales kept his word, and through the generosity of a 55-year-old male donor from Iowa, Charlie received his successful corneal transplant on December 2, 2021.


During the weeks that followed his corneal transplant, Charlie’s vision noticeably improved, his eye pain and tearing diminished, and he reflected on the generous gift from his donor. In a heartfelt letter to his donor’s family, Charlie wrote, “I am writing to say thank-you to your loved one. I was fortunate to receive a corneal transplant from him. My wife and I will be married 50 years in July. (We married young, so don’t think of me as an old man.) We have two children and five grandchildren. With my new vision, I will be able to watch them grow and see their smiles. This is a wonderful gift, and I will always be grateful to you and your loved one. I look at him as my hero.”

Charlie has a unique appreciation for the selfless act of donation. Almost nine years ago, after going through a battery of testing for more than a year, followed by a kidney biopsy, Charlie’s wife, Judy, was diagnosed with a rare type of kidney disease called fibrillary glomerulonephritis (FGN). While going through additional testing for potential placement on the national kidney transplant waiting list, Judy was also diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Judy would need a kidney transplant to save her life and was placed on the waiting list on Christmas Eve 2014.

Dr. Alan Reed, Judy’s transplant surgeon at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, told her to begin making a list of possible living donors. Several family members and friends immediately volunteered, including Charlie, who proudly proclaimed, “It will be me!” Despite being told the odds were highly against Charlie being a match for Judy, it turned out that he was. With her kidneys functioning at only 10% and dialysis in her near future, Judy received her transplanted kidney from Charlie on June 18, 2015.

Judy now jokes, “Charlie only volunteered to be tested as a potential match because he would miss my cooking if anything happened to me.” In a more serious tone, she adds, “Charlie is always willing to help anyone. He’s not one to just stand back and watch. He is my hero.”

Judy walks beside her donor hero, Charlie, every day of her life and is incredibly grateful. Although Charlie may not consider himself a hero, he truly recognizes the legacy of his own donor hero every day when he opens his eyes.