Connie Neese is not one to shy away from a challenge, but when she learned she would need a cornea transplant, Connie was understandably hesitant.
The Jackson Eye Openers Lion suffers from a genetic condition called Fuchs’ dystrophy, which can lead to visual impairment and eye discomfort. This condition is caused by the deterioration of corneal cells, gradually resulting in vision loss over time.
“I was surprised to learn my condition is more common in women than in men,” Connie said. “Both my sister and niece have Fuchs’ dystrophy. However, my case is the most severe among us.”
For the past three years, Connie did not drive at night because of her vision loss. This drastically limited her independence and ability to socialize in the evenings. She depended on friends and community members to drive, which became even more limited due to the pandemic.
In 2021, Connie’s ophthalmologist said it was time—her cornea transplant couldn’t be delayed any longer. Being a Lion, Connie knew more about cornea transplants than many, but she still had reservations about the procedure.
Connie called Eversight Philanthropy Director Alex Teska to ask if she could get connected to another cornea transplant recipient before her surgery. Alex introduced Connie to three women who all had transplants before her, to share their experiences and ease Connie’s concerns.
“Cornea transplantation has come a long way in the years since these women received theirs,” Connie said. “I was worried about how I would take care of myself living alone while recovering, but things turned out far better than I expected.”
Connie’s eye patch was removed within 24 hours of her transplant. She was driving at night—even in the rain—after just one week. Something as seemingly small as being able to read street signs made a big difference to Connie’s restored independence.
As a Lion, Connie is a continued advocate for eye, organ and tissue donation. Before the pandemic, she volunteered for Donate Life Day at the Michigan Secretary of State encouraging individuals to sign up to join the donor registry. Today, she hopes sharing her story will inspire others to give the selfless gifts of sight, life and mobility.
“I am so thankful to Eversight, and to my cornea donor, for giving me my sight back,” Connie said. “I really encourage anyone on the fence about cornea transplantation to get it. Recovery was easy for me and the results are amazing. My transplant changed my life.”
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