Teacher sees the value of organ and tissue donation

As an elementary school teacher Dan Heitman's students probably suspect that he has eyes on the back of his head. What they don't know is that Dan's keen "teacher vision" is only possible because of cornea transplants—three in all—and the generosity of donor families.

As a boy, Dan was diagnosed with keratoconus, a progressive condition in which the cornea—the surface of the eye which is normally domed shape—gradually becomes thin and cone shaped.

Without correction, Dan's vision was about 20/100 at its worst (meaning he saw things at 20 feet that people with normal eyes can see at 100 feet). To control the shape of his cornea and correct his vision, Dan wore hard contact lenses. The contacts improved his vision but the shape of his eyes caused the contacts to randomly pop out.

By the time Dan was in high school, his vision had deteriorated to the point where he needed a cornea transplant. In 1978 he had his first transplant on his left eye; a year later, the right. About 10 years later he needed another transplant on his right eye. This time the transplant was performed at Gundersen Health System by ophthalmologist Paul Kuck, MD.

"Needless to say, I have an incredible amount of gratitude for the kindness and generosity of families who allow organ, eye and tissue donations," say Dan. "I've been very fortunate that each time I've needed a cornea transplant, it's been there for me. It's a gift that I don't take lightly."

In fact, Dan is so grateful for his gift of sight that he is now an advocate for organ and tissue donation. He speaks at functions about the benefits of donation and has reached out to the Lion's Eye Bank of Wisconsin in Madison. He encourages people to do as he has done—discuss organ and tissue donation with his family and register as a donor.

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