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Charlene Arthur

Eye donor, skilled physician save patient's sight

The pain behind her left eye was unlike anything Charlene Arthur had felt before.

What started as a minor irritation a few months earlier had grown into an excruciating, deep and intense presence that persisted throughout the day. Her eye seemed to grow redder and more swollen with each passing week.

After months of attempts at treatment, Arthur fully lost sight in the eye on April 9, 2012.

"The pain was so bad in my left eye that I couldn't even keep my right eye open for very long," she said. "I'd sit there in my house with sunglasses on, a hat pulled down over my face and the drapes drawn. It just hurt so much."

But thanks to the generosity of an eye donor and the skilled work of The University of Kansas Physicians ophthalmologist Miranda Bishara, MD, Arthur has her sight back, and no more pain. Arthur's story is a reminder this April — Donate Life Month — of the remarkable gift that eye donors give to patients in need.

After having Arthur's case referred to her by a physician at another hospital, Bishara helped diagnose the cause of Arthur's issues as an infection by acanthamoeba, a common microbe found in soil and water that was likely transmitted through Arthur's contact lenses. Left untreated, acanthamoeba infections in the eyes can cause permanent blindness.

"My prayer was for someone to figure out what this was," Arthur said. "And Dr. Bishara did it."

Using tissue from an eye donor, Bishara performed a corneal transplant on Arthur June 15. Two weeks later, Arthur opened her left eye for the first time in months and could start to make out shapes and colors.

"It was a ray of hope that I hadn't had for a long time," Arthur said. "I could open my eyes and there was no pain. You can't imagine how much of a relief it was."

Arthur said the experience has prompted her to register as an organ donor — and encourage her family to do the same.

"I wrote a message to the family of the person who had donated," she said. "But the biggest thanks I could give was to register as a donor myself."

For more information on becoming an eye donor, visit the Heartland Lions Eye Bank's website.