Friday, August 30, 2019, Jean Jacobs marked three years since her last corneal transplant operation. Of eight previous procedures, all improved her sight for a time, but none produced results lasting longer than six months. Her rare eye condition defied the amazing success rates of corneal transplants.
For Jean, these three years are a miracle. In 2016, she faced worsening eyesight, her doctor insisting one more corneal transplant was necessary, a new procedure and treatment with a 50-percent chance of success. Understandably nervous, Jean took a month to consider her options and to pray. “I turned it over to God and trusted him,” Jean says, crediting prayer and her faith with helping her reach such a difficult decision. Even still, she felt guilt for accepting another new cornea that could grant vision to someone else.
A sudden loss helped Jean reach her decision in a way no one could anticipate. In 2011, Jean’s older brother, who suffered from a chronic illness, died unexpectedly after complications from surgery. He was only 44. Jean received a call from Advancing Sight Network’s referral coordinator. Due to pneumonia, the only organs that could be donated by Jean’s brother were his two corneas.
Choosing to donate her brother’s corneas was an easy decision for Jean to make. Through the course of her treatments and surgeries over the years, Jean’s older brother was her inspiration, encouraging her and supporting her on her journey to regain her sight. Jean knew her brother would gladly donate his corneas to give someone else the opportunity to see. This also helped inspire Jean to pursue one final transplant operation; she knew it was what her brother would have wanted.
Eye donation changed her life in more ways than one. She was given the gift of seeing her children for the first time. She found hope and strength following the death of her brother. And today, Jean dedicates her time as a speaker and advocate for organ, eye and tissue donation.
Jean’s goal is to inspire others facing similar obstacles to keep going and never give up. “Everyone gets to the finish line at a different pace,” Jean says. She doesn’t use the word “disability.” Rather, Jean says, “Everyone has an ability.”