“It’s one of those things you don’t think about until it involves your own family.”
The words were said by Luella Miller, sitting in her dining room looking at a large medallion given to her in memory of her husband, Bob Miller, as a final gift.
Bob passed away last month after battling cancer. A member of countless clubs and organizations, Bob gave generously of his time and experience. His generosity not only marked an exemplary life, but it continued after his death.
Bob’s final gift was made to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank – donating his eyes.
The decision was first presented to Luella the day that Bob died at Boone County Hospital. A long-time employee of the north side Casey’s, one of the nurses at the hospital recognized her and the two struck up a conversation. Since Bob had cancer, he was unable to donate his organs, but according to the nurse, donating his eyes were a different story.
Many people recoil at the thought of donating their loved one’s eyes – even more so than organ donation. The thought of having a part of their loved one removed is often one that pushes surviving family members to disregard the option without much discussion. Luella and her children didn’t give it much discussion, either, however the result was different than most. Her kids made the decision easy.
“Our daughter said, ‘If one good thing could come out of losing Dad, I think we should do it,’” Luella said. “That’s all the discussion we had. We just felt if something good could come, we’d do it. That’s what we did.”
The nurse she had been talking to called the phone number for the Iowa Lion’s Eye Bank, talked to them, introduced them to Luella and she filled out an application right there on the phone.
The Iowa Lio’s Eye Bank is a non-profit organization that serves as a link between donors and cornea recipients in providing the gift of sight through transplant. It serves 3 million people and more than 120 hospitals in the state.
The donation of eyes is used for transplants of the cornea – the transparent, dome-shaped window covering the front of the eye. Hundreds of corneal transplants are performed each year in Iowa, according the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, to successfully restore vision to patients suffering from corneal problems and deteriorating vision. It is the most frequently performed human tissue transplant procedure, and the need for corneas is never fully met.
While donors’ families do not get the chance to meet the recipients, the feeling of knowing that the gift of their loved one went to help somebody is inspiring.
“Your loved one’s living on in someone else,” Luella said. “It helps someone else live through their organ donation. Someone else may be seeing, there may be two people seeing, through Bob’s eyes. We don’t know.” At the visitation and funeral, the Iowa Lions Eye Bank even made up cards with green ribbon pins to be distributed. The cards read: “A life becomes a legacy through donation. The Green Ribbon is the National Symbol for eye, organ and tissue donation. Respectfully wear this pin in remembrance of Bob Miller and in celebration of his life and gift. To honor Bob Miller, you are encouraged to join the Iowa Donor Registry at www.iowadonorregistry.org or phone 1-877-366-6742.”
Luella had thought about becoming an organ donor in the past, as a relative on her father’s side had received an organ from a donor. At the time, it got Luella thinking about the possibility, but she wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until the issue hit home that she took the leap and signed up. Now, she says it was absolutely the right decision.
“I have no doubt about it,” she said. “And I think one reason that I decided to do it now is because God was telling me now is the time to do it. I can’t use them anyhow. I’ll be going to heaven and won’t need them anyhow…if I could help somebody down here, great.”
Although there aren’t a significant number of green pins left – they were very popular at Bob’s funeral – Luella is giving the rest of them to the Boone chapter of the Lions Club for members to distribute and help spread the word about the good their organizations is doing. Now, Luella is an advocate for not only eye donation, but organ and tissue donation as well.
“If it gives them an extra year or two, that’s good quality of life, it’s worth it,” she said. “Especially if someone has small children. If it adds on maybe another six, seven years with their father or their mother or even their brother and sister, it’s worth it. I stop and think about all the people I can help once I’m gone with my organ and tissue donation, my gosh. It’s just kind of a no-brainer. Think about all the people you can help and all the families you can help.”
She encourages others to sign up as organ, eye and/or tissue donors, and most importantly to let their family members know of their wishes. It provides a legacy that lives on, both figuratively and literally, in others…a legacy that makes a difference.
“People having difficulty going through this, I would ask them to think about it,” she said. “I’m not saying ‘do it,’ because they have to make the decision on their own, but think about how by doing this you can help other people see. Help other people when you’re gone.” To contact the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, call 1-866-HELPSEE (435-7733).