Mum-of-four reveals how sight-saving transplant has changed her life

2nd Sep 2019

A mum-of-four is urging people to join the donor register – after two corneal transplants have given her the gift of sight.

Joanna Garvey, of Sutton Coldfield, (second from right in the picture above) has been able to see her children graduate and watch her son get married since she had her operation at the Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre (BMEC).

The head of sixth form was speaking during Organ Donation Week (2-8 September) to raise awareness around the subject.

Joanna, 48, was suffering from a condition called Keratoconus, a corneal disorder which can result in blurry and double vision, and eventually lead to blindness before she underwent two transplants – the first in her left eye, and the second in her right.

She said: “After the first transplant when I was aged 29, I had a number of issues with my left eye because I had a squint as a child. My right eye was also deteriorating because of the condition and I was relying solely on it.

“By December 2012 my vision became worse and I was registered blind. I couldn’t drive and things became increasingly difficult. In April 2013 I had my second corneal transplant in my right eye.

“The care at BMEC was brilliant and they looked after me really well.

“Without my corneal transplant I would be registered blind and wouldn’t be able to drive and do my job.

“But more importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to see my children grow up, graduate and get married.

“All four of them play hockey up to a regional and county level, and without the generosity of my corneal transplant I wouldn’t have been able to see that. I can’t thank my donors enough.

“Because I’ve been a recipient of a transplant we have been really open about organ donation in our house. All of my children have signed up the register and we’ve had the difficult conversation that should the worst happen, they can still benefit somebody after their death.

“Ultimately you are giving the gift of life, and whilst my gift isn’t life-saving, it is life changing and without the generosity of the donors I wouldn’t have been able to experience all the things I have.”

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon Anil Aralikatti, based at BMEC, which is run by Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, said: “Corneal transplant surgery (also called corneal graft or keratoplasty) involves replacing the damaged or diseased cornea with a healthy donated corneal tissue.

“This surgery provides a precious gift of sight, and is life changing for patients with visual impairment. Following surgery, people are delighted to be able to see their loved ones, while many others are happy to be able to get back to work and live an independent life.

“At BMEC, we undertake around 60 to 100 corneal transplant operations per year. Unfortunately there is currently a shortage of donor corneal tissue in the UK. If more people joined the organ donation register, a lot more could benefit from this sight restoring surgery. “There are no age restrictions for eye donation, and no need for tissue matching of the donor cornea with the recipient. Many people who are unable to donate their organs can still become cornea donors. With more donors, we can change more lives.”


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