Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
Every Life Has a Story

Matt was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small lung cancer in December, 2017.

Matt's wife, Jane, says he was determined to beat it. But in late 2018, Matt decided to discontinue treatment. He passed away on December 9, 2018.

"Matt, on his driver's license, he was an organ donor," Jane says. "But we talked about this before he really declined, and he said, 'I don't want any of me going anywhere, because of the cancer.' And I said, 'I don't really think they would be allowed to take anything so I don't think you need to worry about that. 

"So I think he would have been thrilled to know that the corneas were still transplantable, which he did not know when he passed away, and I did not know until I got the phone call at 4 in the morning after he had passed away," Jane says. "So it was very easy to say yes to Iowa Lions Eye Bank. Matt would have been thrilled to know that part of him went on."

It is a myth that cancer automatically prevents you from donating corneas. Because corneas do not involve vascular tissue, most patients that have cancer still qualify as eye donors.

One of Matt's corneas went to Dennis, whose vision was fading due to Fuchs Dystrophy. Dennis had his cornea transplant on December 12, 2018, and he and Jane later corresponded.

"We discovered in our communication back and forth that he was also very interested in photography, so I shared some pictures that Matt had taken that are all over our house," Jane says. "He just had a gift for finding the perfect setting and the perfect scene and the perfect shading... he just had an eye for that kind of thing. It was just to me a little uncanny that his cornea went to someone of the same photography background. They both really enjoyed that kind of thing. So that was just sort of a bond that I felt right away with Dennis."

"Well photography is a hobby from high school," Dennis says. "I worked on the yearbooks, did a lot of sports photography, a little action when we traveled."

After his transplant, Dennis says he found himself taking pictures with a "different eye."

"Dennis had sent me some pictures of a trip he had taken and he said, 'you know, I wouldn't have seen this beautiful scenery if I had not received Matt's cornea," Jane says. "He coined the phrase that Matt was able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, which is now one of my favorite things to say."

"I'm very grateful that there's a donor pool available," Dennis says. "Hopefully someday I can reciprocate in some form."

In April 2022, Dennis met Jane in person at Iowa Lions Eye Bank in Coralville. Dennis' wife, Susan, says it feels like they are related to Jane, and they both see through different eyes now.

Watch their meeting