One of Barbara Van Dorn’s two cornea transplants has a small, barely noticeable “S” stamp. The marker helps physicians position the ultra-thin cornea during the surgical process.
But for Barbara, the “S” means something else entirely.
“It should stand for Superman,” she said. “Both of my donors were male, and I feel like I have my own personal heroes.”
Barbara was diagnosed with Fuchs’ dystrophy when she was 35 years old. She had just started law school and was visiting an optometrist for her annual eye exam when she noticed something was wrong.
Fuchs’ dystrophy causes the cornea on the front of the eye to swell and can lead to glare, cloudy vision and eye discomfort. Bright lights were particularly bothersome to Barbara. Her biggest fear was visiting the doctor, because they would shine what felt like a piercing light into her eyes. The pain was excruciating.
Most people with Fuchs’ dystrophy do not develop symptoms until they reach their 50s or 60s, but Barbara started having vision issues not long after her diagnosis.
One of the major hurdles became driving at night. Following law school and a one-year clerkship, she went to work as a lawyer for the state of Connecticut. It meant lots of time in a car going from Bridgeport to Hartford to Waterbury and everywhere in between.
So, in 2002, Barbara underwent her first cornea transplant. Surgical techniques have vastly improved in the 15 years since, but back then Barbara had stitches that had to stay in for a year.
“It wasn’t until 2004, after laser correction surgery, that I finally felt like my vision had stabilized,” Barbara said, “and I could successfully continue my life and career.”
But Barbara was not done battling Fuchs’ dystrophy just yet. By 2015 the vision out of the other eye had regressed. That’s when Barbara ended up with what she calls the best thing in the world: Dr. Lorenzo Cervantes, a corneal surgeon at Connecticut Eye Specialists and an Eversight Medical Director.
“He’s everything a doctor should be,” Barbara said. “He listens to what you’re saying, answers any questions you have, and is a very caring, compassionate person.”
Dr. Cervantes performed a Descemet’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty transplant. Thanks to advancements in medical research, these treatments replace just a small part of the damaged cornea. Barbara’s sight improved in a matter of days.
Every once in a while, when the light hits her face just right, there’s a slight glint in her eyes from the “S” stamp—the only visible sign from her transplants. It’s a reminder of the gifts she was given through eye donation.
“Without my transplants I wouldn’t have been able to continue working or driving or functioning at all,” Barbara said. “To me they’re the best gifts in the world that I can ever receive. Nothing can top this—nothing.”
Corneal transplantation saved Barbara Van Dorn’s vision, and today she can see the most important things in life.