Eye for an Eye
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto
On February 25, 2021, I had both of my eyes surgically removed. Since I’ve been blind all my life, the operation wasn’t quite as drastic as it sounds, although it’s been an ordeal to recover from. It was the last treatment option I had left to free myself from the debilitating and escalating pain my nonfunctioning eyeballs have been causing me for the past three decades.
I’ve been an avid supporter of organ and tissue donation for years. One of my aunts has flourished since the nineties in spite of chronic kidney disease because of two transplants from living family members. So although I thought my eyes would be fit only for research rather than sight restoration, I contacted the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank before my surgery. It turned out that a researcher was very interested in examining my ocular tissues. Sadly, confidentiality laws prevented me from finding out the specifics about the project, but I filled out the stacks of necessary legal forms to donate my eyeballs to the effort.
When I awoke from the eye removal operation, I was overjoyed to hear that plans had changed. Upon examination, the researcher had observed that my retinas—the thin layers of tissue that line the back of the eyes near the optic nerves—were intact. I’d been a premature baby in 1971, weighing two pounds and two ounces, and I’d spent three months in an incubator. My neonatal treatment team, my parents, and eventually I had all assumed the high concentration of oxygen that had saved my life and burned up my optic nerves, costing me my vision, had also destroyed my retinas. I don’t remember all of the details because of the anesthesia—Propofol and I are sworn enemies—but I do know for sure that my retinal tissue was taken to the Colorado University Health Sciences Center, a renowned teaching hospital on the Front Range, so that cells could be used for transplantation. Two people have kept their sight because I had my painful, non-working eyeballs removed from my face.
Somehow that seems like a satisfying end to a difficult story.
About the Author
Jo Elizabeth Pinto was among the first blind students to integrate the public schools in the 1970’s. In 1992, she received a degree in Human Services from the University of Northern Colorado. While teaching students how to use adaptive technology, she earned a second degree in 2004 from the Metropolitan State College of Denver in Nonprofit Management. She freelances as an editor and a braille proofreader. As an author, Pinto entertains her readers while giving them food for thought. In her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, she draws on personal experience to illustrate that hope is always an action away. Pinto lives in Colorado with her husband, her preteen daughter, and their pets. Visit her website at https://www.brightsideauthor.com.