Crystal Jones and her late father.

“I know he’s dancing in heaven”

Father gives one last gift to daughter—sight

Chicagoan Crystal Jones received a unique direct tissue donation from her late father, Tyrone Jones, last year. 

Crystal’s eyes weren’t fully formed at birth, causing progressive vision loss that ultimately made her legally blind. As she was exploring a stem cell transplant to improve her vision, her father Tyrone unexpectedly passed away, but he was able to give his daughter one last gift—the gift of sight.

Making miracles happen 

Ali Djalilian, MD, a cornea specialist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, went above and beyond to facilitate the transplant. He is the Searls-Schenk Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of the Stem Cell Therapy and Corneal Tissue Engineering Laboratory. 

The tissues were recovered before Eversight was informed that Crystal was hoping to receive her father’s tissue. Eversight Clinical Manager Doreen Murphy spoke with Dr. Djalilian’s team to learn more about Crystal’s case and discovered her transplant would typically call for a keratolimbal allograft (KLA). 

In today’s modern eye banking practices, expertly trained recovery technicians can procure specific eye tissues for different surgical applications. A case like Crystal’s would have typically called for a specialized stem cell recovery protocol for the KLA tissue, but Dr. Djalilian wasn’t deterred. 

As a seasoned surgeon and stem cell expert, Dr. Djalilian has been performing corneal transplants since before eye banks could recover specialized tissues. He agreed to proceed with the transplant just like he used to do before Eversight could recover KLA tissue.

One last gift

A unique opportunity 

Direct eye tissue donations like this are uncommon, in large part because there is no wait list in the United States for cornea transplants. The stars must align in many ways, and the timing must be right for all parties. And sometimes, everything is just right. 

Crystal received her father’s tissues in both eyes during her April 2023 transplant. Eversight Recovery Technician Tamara Pechtold and Gift of Hope Tissue Authorization Specialist Teddy Lehmann supported the recovery of Tyrone’s tissues, helping to make vision a reality for Crystal. 

“It’s bittersweet. I love him and I appreciate him,” Crystal says. “I know he’s dancing in heaven, so excited he was able to donate his stem cells to me.” 

Following her transplant, Crystal experienced a brief lapse in insurance coverage, during which Dr. Djalilian and his wife’s foundation paid for her medications. One eye has recovered nicely so far, the other may require another stem cell transplant, possibly from her living brother.

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