Atlanta Lions Club kicked off the White Cane fundraiser today with the “Million Penny Challenge” The goal is to raise $10,000.00 by June 15th to support The Georgia Lions Lighthouse and other Lions charities. We will be distributing buckets throughout the community asking “May we have your pennies?” For 62 days, from April 15th to June 15th, we are asking the Atlanta Lions and friends of the Atlanta Lions to support this effort by collecting change in these buckets. A portion of the monies, 50%, will go to the Georgia Lions Lighthouse. Here is a sample of the work that the Lions of Georgia and the Lighthouse perform:
At the age of 25, my lifelong battle against a rare, genetic and brutally painful eye disease finally took its toll and rendered me almost legally blind. My young son, who was just a year old at the time, was also experiencing episodic bouts of pain and severe sensitivity to light which meant he too had inherited the dreaded disease. Each erosion or, scratch across our corneas, occurred for any number of reasons; simply upon opening our eyes from sleep, or a wisp of hair across the eye, or for no known reason at all. Each erosion caused a lattice work pattern of abrasions to appear across the surface of the eye. Each and every time my infant son or I experienced an erosion, we were confined to bed. The extreme photophobias meant those days in bed were spent in utter darkness. Not a candle, not the flicker of a television, not a ray of sunlight could be tolerated. My son was so young that scarring of his cornea had not yet become a concern. The horror of the pain in someone so young? Yes. Blindness not yet. For me though, the recurrent corneal erosions and central corneal clouding had finally disabled me.
I had no insurance, could not allow myself to continue to drive, correcting my vision with glasses was not a reality and faking it at work was out of the question. Between his bouts and mine it was pretty hard to hold down a job for long. On good days when I could see it was a challenge. Without vision at least some of the time, we were done for. I was alone and I was scared. I knew I needed a cornea transplant. My Mother had one with moderate success and an Aunt and Grandfather had also been helped by the operation to some degree. Because I had been dealing with my disease, I mean just living with it and all its consequences as a part of my reality since birth, missing school, losing jobs, learning how to handle pain I did with no doctor I could call on.
There was nothing they could ever do to help me in my young mind, could not provide pain relief so my policy was, and why go? Still, I knew the transplants might restore, at least partially, my vision. How to do it with no money and no insurance? Fortune favors the brave; I believed this and so with the help of a friend, began to find corneal surgeons in the Atlanta area. I wrote letters to each of them begging them to help me, uninsured though I was and finally after a month of pleading I got a response.
Dr. Stephen Hamilton, a brilliant, kind and in my humble estimation, heroic surgeon, invited me into his office in Atlanta for a consultation. He confirmed what I knew to be true. A transplant was the way to go. In the exam room Dr. Hamilton made me an offer I’m sure might be shocking to many in the modern medical profession. He offered to do the surgery for free. However, we would need outpatient services and surgical accommodations from the hospital. We would also need a donor cornea and after care costs covered. Cornea tissue transplant recipients never reach a place where they are risk free from rejection and I would require lifelong care. How do you pay for that with no insurance?
It seemed to awful to bare. It seemed in that moment to me that there was no hope.
I was overcome with despair in that moment. An awful thing. We sat there together in the dark; me, close to tears, infant child on my lap, Dr. Hamilton serious and thoughtful.
Suddenly he snapped his fingers,”Lions!” he said.
“Pardon me?” Wondering if he was, as I suspected when he offered to do my surgery for free…crazy.
“The lions Lighthouse folks!” He said, almost giddy.
Dr. Hamilton put his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said, “Don’t worry Shannon, they will help us.”
In a great whirlwind of what I can only describe as caring and gentle, things began to happen. To be honest I truly don’t remember being asked to do much at all. I signed a few papers, a donor tissue was found much faster than expected and my operation was scheduled. The Lions and Dr. Hamilton’s office handled everything for me. I never received a bill; I never stood in a long line. I did not have to beg for help. They accessed my need, determined they could help, and then, they helped me. They covered all the costs. I had the operation and my life and the life of my son, were changed forever.
I could drive. I could read to him. I could work. I saw things I had forgotten existed. Leaves on trees had singular shapes and lines; they were not just one big glob of color at the top of a trunk.
Definition and meaning were mine. I got my miracle.
I don’t know any of the people who must have participated in the process at the Lions Club. The tireless fundraising, the administrative people who deal with the day to day realities of running a nonprofit that works. There must be many of them. If I could bake them all cookies I would. How do you thank people for helping you see your child’s face, the road ahead, a way through? You can’t really. They don’t expect it. I’d like to say thank you anyway. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
It has been 19 years since that operation. I still struggle with the episodes of pain and fluctuating acuity. I am still a visually impaired person traversing the world. My son also has his share to deal with. One day I will need another transplant. There is no cure for the disease…yet.
When it’s time for me to do it again will I be able to cover cost with private insurance? Will my son? I don’t know. I do know help is out there. Good people are out there who care. You can find them if you know where to look. You can even help someone yourself just by giving freely your time and your money. The Lions Lighthouse Foundation gave me the gift of sight and never ask me for a thing. That’s a story worth sharing. Thank you for allowing me to do so.