Sunday, December 24, 2000

Teacher thankful for restored sight

She promotes organ donation to her students

The Associated Press

        IRVINE, Ky. — Jeanne Crowe constantly reminds her sixth-grade students at Estill County Middle School about the gift two children gave to her.

        In the early 1990s, an eye disorder threatened her vision. But corneal transplants on both eyes rescued her sight. One cornea came from a teen-age donor, the other from a small child.

        “Two children gave me their eyes; I don't know who they were,” said Ms. Crowe, 51. “But I always make a point of telling my students about how I was losing my eyesight, and how those two kids saved my sight. It's sort of my gift back to them.”

        Ms. Crowe started struggling with her eyesight while she was working at the Lexington-Bluegrass Army Depot and studying for a teaching degree at Eastern Kentucky University.

        “When I would wake up in the middle of the night and look at the alarm clock, I couldn't see what time it was,” Ms. Crowe recalled. “Gradually, it got to where I could hardly see at all, and it was painful. It felt like a cut on my eye.”

        Doctors diagnosed keratoconus, a disorder in which the cornea gradually changes shape. Various treatments, including special contact lenses, didn't help.

        “I had a hard time dealing with it, especially because I thought I would have to give up on becoming a teacher,” Ms. Crowe said. “I was working hard on my degree, and I was terrified that they would find out I was going blind and refuse to let me graduate. I was trying not to let anybody know.”

        Eventually, Ms. Crowe found her way to Dr. Woodford Van Meter, a University of Kentucky corneal transplant surgeon. The transplants were performed in May and December 1991.

        “When he unbandaged my eyes for the first time ... I can't describe the feeling when I realized that I really was going to be able to see again,” Ms. Crowe said.

        Today, Ms. Crowe wears glasses, but otherwise has no vision problems. She is doing what she always wanted to do in life, and she makes sure her students know how that is possible.

        “I had always wanted to be a teacher, and went back to school at midlife to be able to do it,” she said. “It's a caring profession, and I'm able to do it today because of two caring families that were willing to donate.

        “I thank God every day for donor families who are willing to think of others at such a sad time in their lives. Donation is such a simple gift, but it's also a hard commitment for people to make.”

        “I say my prayers every night for those who donated to me. And I tell my students about it, because it's my way of giving back some small part of what they've done for me.”

        When telling the story, Ms. Crowe always shows the students her driver's license, which she has signed indicating that she wants to be an organ and tissue donor. Then she explains the importance of organ donation by telling how it changed her life.

        “I always make sure that we talk about it, usually at the beginning of the year and maybe then again during the holidays,” Ms. Crowe said. “It's my way of giving something back.”


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