Editor’s note: Welcome to Eversight Orbit! A new blog series featuring the remarkable people who comprise Eversight’s vast network. Get to know the dedicated team members and partners who play a critical role in making vision a reality.
By Caroline Miller, Marketing & Communications Specialist
Eversight is a global network of community-based eye banks serving Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, northeast Ohio, New Jersey, South Korea and beyond. Our mission is to restore sight and prevent blindness through the healing power of eye donation, corneal transplantation and vision research.
And with the help of industry partners, Eversight is able to change lives. Funeral homes like Wujek Calcaterra & Sons, Inc. in Sterling Heights, Mich. is one organization that helps Eversight make vision a reality.
Dominick Astorino is a funeral director at Wujek Calcaterra & Sons who helps facilitate the gift of sight. Eversight staff contacts Dominick and his team to let them know a potential cornea donor will be arriving or is already at the funeral home.
“Eversight always tells us a pretty accurate timeframe of when they're going to be doing the recovery and when we can expect to transfer the donor,” Dominick said.
Eversight and Wujek Calcaterra & Sons routinely communicate to make sure the donor and their family’s wishes are fulfilled. This teamwork enables Eversight recovery technicians to travel to the funeral home, recover tissue and return it to our laboratory for evaluation and processing.
Working together with purpose
The partnership between funeral homes and eye banks has developed over the years to become the symbiotic relationship it is today. But it wasn’t always that way. Many people put in a lot of time and energy over many years to better understand how eye banks and funeral homes could better work together and honor everyone’s priorities.
About 10 years ago, a workgroup between funeral home managers, Eversight and Gift of Life Michigan was formed to improve the standard practice of donation and transplantation between these organizations in the state of Michigan. This is where Dominick first became acquainted with Eversight.
"Eversight is doing really good work,” Dominick said. “We're governed by different laws, and we have different timelines of our work, but Eversight is doing a good thing and that's made things a lot easier for us.”
Dominick helps manage Wujek Calcaterra & Sons and actively makes funeral arrangements every day, preparing remains for viewing and directing funerals. He takes great pride in being able to help families and friends memorialize and honor their loved ones after death.
“My work specializes in trauma restoration, the viewing of the dead after traumatic death, disfiguring death,” he said. “I like to be there for those people who want to see their son or their wife or whoever it is one more time.”
Educating future embalmers
When Dominick isn’t working at the funeral home, he teaches embalming, restorative art and pathology at Wayne State University and Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Chicago.
“I travel all over to teach mortuary science and embalming, especially internationally to areas that can't afford it or don't have the resources to manage the dead,” he said.
The authentic relationship built between Eversight and Wujek Calcaterra & Sons has positively impacted Dominick’s perspective on donation and transplantation, and how he teaches his students.
“It's changed the way that I think, and that changes the way that I teach my students and how we run our business,” he said. “That change in thinking is making it easier to facilitate people getting vision or saving tissue or getting something that they need.”
“I'll show them a picture of my little boy and say, ‘If you're the type of person to get in the way of donation, it might hurt someone like this. What if he needed tissue and it was available, but it was robbed of him because a funeral director was lazy or angry or misinformed?’” he said.
Dominick uses his profession to inform and educate people in the funeral and embalming community about eye, organ and tissue donation. In this busy and demanding career with strict timelines, he thinks some people may forget about the human connection and greater purpose of eye banks like Eversight.
“They just see it as this entity, but at the end of the day, Eversight is a small organization with a group of people who are there because they really believe in their work and really do want to help people see,” Dominick said.
Dominick is an Eversight Shared Vision Award recipient for his service to donors, their families and educating his peers about the importance of facilitating the gift of sight. These awards recognize those who offer extraordinary support for Eversight’s mission.