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.
With his eyesight restored, Howell was able to write his first novel, a fiction crime thriller. He says it would have been impossible before the surgery. He is now able to enjoy life more. “These days, I spend my time writing, reading, and seeing the beauty of the mountains in the fall and the ocean in the summer and the clouds in the sky,” Howell says.
When Howell wrote to thank his cornea donors’ families for the gift, he found a friend in Jennifer, whose mom was one of Howell’s donors. The two keep in touch regularly. “That personal connection means so much,” Jennifer says. “Part of my mother lives on. She’s still helping.”
Jennifer says her mom was her best friend, a selfless person who loved everyone unconditionally and found the good in every person. Howell hopes to meet in person someday. “I’d love to meet face to face and try to adequately express just how much this has positively changed my life,” he says.
Jennifer encourages others to make their wishes about organ, eye, and tissue donation known to their families. “I made sure my family knows I want to donate so I can help others,” she says. “Make sure you know what your family members want. I always knew what my mother wanted.”
Register to become an organ, eye, and tissue donor at advancingsight.org or use the Health app on your iPhone.
You make restoration of eyesight possible through your financial gifts to Advancing Sight Network. Give online at www.advancingsight.org/give-financially.