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After daughter's death, parents deliver her donated cornea

Christopher O'Donnell, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Parenting News

TAMPA, Fla. — Four times a week, an alarm clock rouses Jerry and Marie Woody at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m.

The couple dress quickly and skip breakfast. It takes them 15 minutes to get to the Lions Eye Institute in Ybor City. Marie jumps out and returns with an inch-thick foam cooler marked “perishable” and “medical emergency” that she gingerly places in the back seat. Soon they’re headed to everywhere from Mount Dora to Naples. Jerry always drives. There’s no stopping.

The precious cargo in the cooler are corneas harvested from donors after they die. They’re used for corneal transplants — keratoplasty — to restore vision in those suffering from conditions such as glaucoma, damaged eye tissue or complications from cataract surgeries.

Jerry Woody has spent two decades driving about 700,000 miles across Florida to deliver what he calls the “gift of sight” — more than 7,000 corneas. Marie began accompanying her husband four years ago to help after the cartilage in his knees wore out.

Their trip on March 3 started the same way, but everything felt different.

The cornea in the cooler that Marie carefully placed in the back seat came from their daughter.


A family tradition

Established in 1973, the Lions Eye Institute in Ybor services 61 of Florida’s 67 counties, supplying corneas for 10,000 eye transplant recipients each year, said CEO Jason Woody.

Its parent organization was launched by a social club for businessmen who started fundraising for the blind and visually impaired after famed blind and deaf disability advocate Helen Keller called on members to help at a convention in 1925.

Now the institute has 15 centers across the United States. The Tampa center is its largest eye bank, Jason Woody said. That’s in part because about 50 percent of Florida adults are registered as organ donors, he said.


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