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Karen Martinez: Cornea Recipient And Volunteer


My story began on a June day in 2013.  Probably well before then, but I remember this one day in particular as the day I realized something was really wrong with my right eye.  I glanced to my right to acknowledge a co-worker in my doorway and immediately realized the vision in my right eye was so cloudy I couldn’t see anything but a silhouette.  I had been experiencing blurriness, halos, cloudiness, burning and an overall gradual decline in my vision for quite some time, which had been diagnosed and treated by my optometrist as dry eye.  On this fateful day, I knew I had bigger problems to deal with.  I immediately contacted an eye specialist in my area and within one week I was sitting in a cornea specialist’s office hearing the news that a recurrent infection had caused irreversible scarring and damage to my cornea; my vision would only worsen.  Thus began my journey through not one, but two, DSAEK (partial) corneal transplants in my right eye.

Karen-MartinezBy the time I underwent my first transplant more than a year later in October of 2014, I was experiencing pain and vision deficiencies demanding that my life revolve around my worsening eye condition.  The pain was constant, I experienced daily headaches, eye exhaustion, extreme light sensitivity and, obviously, my vision itself continued to decline.  My eye condition touched every facet of my life: my marriage, my children, my job, my social life and my ability to remain physically active.  I eventually found myself planning my life around my condition and my days became identified as “good eye days” or “bad eye days.”  I was anxious to have the procedure, get through the recovery and return to living my life the way it was before.

Two weeks after surgery, I was advised by my doctor that my new cornea was not responding or functioning as expected.  At two months post-op, my transplant was deemed unsuccessful and a second transplant procedure was recommended.  I elected to transfer my medical care to Duke Eye Center and began working toward my second transplant with my new surgeon, Dr. Taras Semchyshyn.  In September of 2015, I underwent my second DSAEK corneal transplant performed by Dr. Semchyshyn.  Thus began my second round of recovery complete with multiple applications of anti-rejection eye drops, fingers crossed and high hopes for success.

In the five months since my second corneal transplant, my right eye vision has improved to where it stands now at 20/40 with no correction.  My new cornea is clear with no cloudiness, no halos, no light sensitivity and, best of all, no pain!  I’m able to exercise and run and play with my daughters without fear of injuring myself.  I am able to stay up late and get up early without suffering the painful consequences of a severely swollen cornea.  My life no longer revolves around my troublesome and debilitating eye condition.

I can’t thank both of my donor families enough for choosing to donate their loved ones’ eyes so that others like me might see.  I will always remember to take the time to enjoy and appreciate the visual beauty that surrounds me not only for myself, but also for my donor, whose selfless act of generosity has given me the most precious gift I have ever received.

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