Alabama Nonprofit Partners with Huntsville Genetics Company to Cure Blinding Diseases

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — August 2020 — Two Alabama-based organizations are partnering to find cures for common diseases that cause blindness for millions of people worldwide.

In an effort to help medical researchers develop new treatments and cures for blinding eye diseases, Advancing Sight Network and Kailos Genetics created the OcularGeneScreen, a new genetic screening panel, to be used with eye tissue from post-mortem eye donors. The screening will help determine which genes are associated with eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and Fuch’s Dystrophy.

“These diseases cause a huge decline in quality of life for so many people,” says Dr. Gregory Grossman, Advancing Sight Network’s Chief Scientific Officer. “By identifying the genes involved, we’re taking a huge step forward in being able to find cures.”

Advancing Sight Network is a nonprofit organization that has served Alabama for more than 50 years. In addition to providing eye tissue for corneal transplants, the organization invests in medical research in hopes of restoring eyesight to individuals impacted by eye disease. (more…)

Organ Donation Makes Lasting Impact on Young Surgeon

Dr. Pacha is proud of his daughter, Dima McCuiston, who is partner relations manager at Advancing Sight Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring eyesight through corneal transplantation and ocular research.

An experience with organ donation during his first year of general surgery rotation made a lasting impression on Dr. Mamoun Pacha. It was 1976, and Dr. Pacha received a phone call from Dr. Johanssen, chief of the Renal Transplant Department at the University of Illinois. “Be ready,” she told him. They would be driving several hours to recover kidneys from an organ donor.

Dr. Pacha was nervous about assisting in such an important procedure, but he knew Dr. Johanssen was one of the most respected physicians in the field of surgery and transplantation.

As Dr. Pacha assisted in recovering the kidneys, he remembers another doctor at the head of the table who was recovering the donor’s eyes. He said to Pacha, “I have some important news to deliver to some nice people today.”

Back in Chicago, a nine-year-old Latino boy had been waiting on a compatible kidney donor for several years. He developed renal disease at a young age, and a transplant was his best hope. Dr. Pacha assisted Dr. Johanssen as they took the donor kidneys and performed a successful transplant for the little boy.

When Dr. Pacha checked on the young transplant recipient, a nurse shared a funny story. The boy had been so excited to use the bathroom after the surgery. “Urination was a privilege for him,” said Dr. Pacha. (more…)

Cornea Recipient Begins Friendship with Donor’s Family

Jennifer stood in a hospital room with her brothers, making the difficult decision to take their mother off life support. Her mom had a number of health issues at the time, and Jennifer and her brothers had already given up on the idea of organ donation.

“I remember when I was a girl, my mom said she wanted to donate her body to science,” Jennifer recalls. “She wanted to do that so she could help others.”

As she was leaving the hospital after her mother passed, Jennifer got a surprising call asking if she would be willing to donate her mom’s corneas. “I was so excited to get that call. It was an easy decision,” she remembers. “We were not on the fence at all.”

As Jennifer and her brothers were saying goodbye to their mother, Howell Bigham was preparing for cornea transplant surgery. Howell struggled with Fuch’s dystrophy, an eye disease that can lead to vision loss, for years. “It reached the point where I was almost legally blind,” says Howell. “It was unsafe for me to drive.

Howell knew it was time to consider surgery when it became difficult to enjoy his favorite activities like reading, writing, and yard work. His surgeon, Dr. John Parker, successfully performed corneal transplants in both eyes, and Howell was able to see clearly for the first time in years. (more…)

Judy Wilson Credits Surgeon and Cornea Donor for Her Sight

Judy Wilson is a woman on the go. Between her two passions, world travel and her family, Judy doesn’t have the time or patience for anything to hold her back. She spent her life making (and achieving) incredible goals, like her dreams of snow skiing with each of her grandchildren.

When she was diagnosed with Fuchs’ dystrophy, a disease that ultimately leads to vision loss, in 2005, her life didn’t change. “I wasn’t experiencing vision loss or pain. I just knew that eventually, it would have to be taken care of,” remembers Judy.

Ten years later, Judy’s diagnosis was mentioned once again during a screening for cataracts. “Surely you know that you have Fuchs’,” said her doctor. Judy’s response: “Is that bad?”

Judy knew she had to take this seriously. She received a “nudge from God” when her neighbor recommended a visit to Dr. Jack Parker at Parker Cornea. She still remembers telling Dr. Parker in their first meeting, “I only have two eyes. I’ll go to the Netherlands if it means having this surgery done well!”

As it turns out, that trans-Atlantic trip was not going to be a necessary one. Dr. Parker was a perfect fit for her most important requirement: a doctor with experience. Years of training, thousands of surgeries and careful attention to detail brought Dr. Parker to the top of her list. (more…)

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