We caught up with Howell Bigham just a few weeks after he wrote thank you letters to two very special families. As he writes these letters each year, he appreciates doing so without the need for eyeglasses.
Howell’s vision problems began in fourth grade. Howell, his twin brother, and his mother struggled with Fuchs’ Dystrophy, an eye disease that eventually leads to vision loss. It made his favorite activities like reading, writing, and working in the yard, incredibly difficult. As his vision continued to deteriorate into his mid-fifties, he found himself struggling to do simple tasks.
“It reached the point where I was almost legally blind. It was unsafe for me to drive,” said Howell.
As his condition continued to worsen, Howell was informed that he needed a cornea transplant in both eyes. While eager to have better eyesight, the prospect of surgery frightened him.
After meeting with Dr. John Parker at Parker Cornea, the surgery was scheduled for his left eye and then a few months later, his right. Thanks to the generous donations of corneal tissue, Dr. Parker was able to perform two successful transplant surgeries that changed Howell’s life.
Post-surgery, Howell realized the fear and anxiety he had felt were unnecessary. “The surgery didn’t hurt. The most difficult part was lying on my back for 48 hours following each transplant,” he said. It was a small price to pay to transition from nearly legally blind to seeing clearly without glasses.
These days, Howell’s life has done a complete turn-around. At nearly 60, he spends the majority of his time reading – without the assistance of the glasses he’d worn since the fourth grade. He’s also in the midst of editing his novel, a fiction crime thriller. Howell says this would have been nearly impossible prior to his surgery.
“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 clouds in the sky,” said Howell. “Also, I can recognize people now after my surgery. Before I couldn’t even recognize the face of someone I knew!”
After 33 years of preaching the Gospel full-time, Howell transitioned to working full time with the Good Samaritan Hospice in Florence, Alabama as their Chaplain and as a Community Education Specialist.
“Without my transplants, this would’ve been impossible,” says Howell. “My transplants have allowed me to enjoy life more as my wife Jackie and I visit our two grown children, Jonathan and Hannah. In fact, I will be performing the wedding ceremony for our daughter Hannah this August. Needless to say, it would’ve been extremely difficult to do this without the selfless sacrifice of two wonderful people- my donors.”
Howell knows this change couldn’t have come without the sacrifice of two very special donors. That’s why he uses his God-given talent of writing to express his gratitude via letters each year. He thanks his donor families for making decisions that improved his entire quality of life.
“I’d love to meet face to face and try to adequately express just how much their loved one has positively changed my life. I’d like to say to them that their family member lives on through their donation,” said Howell.
While Howell has never met his donors’ families in person, he feels close to them. He isn’t sure how he can say “thank you” enough for their gift, but he knows that his letters are a great start.
Make a difference today by registering to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor. Use the Health app on your iPhone, register here, or sign up when you renew your driver’s license.