Tuesday, Jun 28, 2016
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Perrysburg man's vision restored after corneal transplant

Jeff-and-Rachel-Abke

Jeff Abke, with his wife Rachel Abke and son Wally during a green chair sit-in in April to celebrate organ and tissue donation month.

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The rapdily thinning cornea in Jeff Abke‘‍s right eye was causing him to slowly go blind.

No glasses or contacts could help the keratoconus causing the problem. The cornea of a recently deceased man in Connecticut could, though. A successful transplant on May 17, 2012 restored Mr. Abke’‍s vision.

“I think about it often,” said Mr. Abke, a 1996 Perrysburg High School graduate and the district’‍s development director. “A day with a drastic improvement to my quality of life may be the worst day for someone else‘‍s family. That was not lost on me.”

Now Mr. Abke is trying to enjoy life the best he can with his restored vision, he said. He is also extremely passionate about advocating for organ donation.

That includes helping with Life Connection of Ohio. With an office in Maumee, Life Connection of Ohio is committed to ending the wait for organ and tissue transplants in a manner that is beneficial to patients, donor families, health care professionals, and the public.

“He‘‍s paying it forward and that is awesome,” said Kara Steele, director of community services for Life Connection of Ohio. “Jeff puts a face to donations. You can see all the stats but it is great to see someone before you bringing it full circle and seeing the power of donation.”

About 3,379 people need organ transplants right now, including kidney, liver, pancreas, heart, lung, and intestine transplants. Also 2,000 Ohioans, like Mr. Abke, receive sight through cornea transplants a year.

“People don’‍t know as much about tissue and eye transplants but it can greatly improve quality of life,” Ms. Steele said.

Bone and skin transplants can help patients with bone cancer or burns complicated by infection.

Mr. Abke wears a “donate life” wristband and instead of telling people to become donors, he tries to educate them and asks that they talk to their family about the “very personal decision.”

Although he never learned who donated the eye to him, Mr. Abke was able to write a letter that was sent to the donor‘‍s family. 

“It was very emotional,” he said. “I am not going to pretend to know the emotions it would be to receive it. It was not life saving, but it was very painful and certainly improved quality of life having sight.”

Life Connections of Ohio, and Mr. Abke, both try to break down misconceptions people have about becoming an organ donor. Mr. Abke said he has to explain doctors will work just as hard to save your life even if you are an organ donor.

Ms. Steele said she also finds people sometimes mistakenly think they are too old, or can‘‍t become donors because they have diabetes.

“Regardless of age or medical history they run a gauntlet of tests to make sure your organs or tissues are healthy enough to donate,” she said.

Life Connections of Ohio will have be at the Toledo Community Development Corporation Back to School event Aug. 9 at Smith Park in Toledo, the Maumee Summer Fair and Parade Aug. 16, the Fulton County Fair Aug. 16, and Roche de Boeuf Parade Sept. 27 in Waterville.

People can register as donors at the Life Connections of Ohio booth, at the bureau of motor vehicles, or online at donatelifeohio.org.

“One person has the power to save up to eight lives,” Ms. Steele said. “It makes us feel good to educate and save lives if we get one, two, or three people to sign up at an event.”

Mr. Abke’‍s left eye has the same keratoconus, he may need another donated cornea.

Contact Matt Thompson at: mthompson@theblade.com, 419-356-8786, or on Twitter at @mthompson25.

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