MIRACLES are rare, but sister Marguerite Fernandez of the Good Shepherd convent believes she has seen one up close - in her two transplanted corneas. “With these two corneas, I can see so well”, says the 73-year-old nun.
For the past 34 years, she has been working with prisoners, troubled teens and unwed mothers. She used to be a teacher at Marymount Convent School before granular dystrophy, an inherited disoorder that erodes the cornea, took hold. Seven of her nine siblings also have it.
The painful condition causes opaque spots to form on the cornea, and decreases vision over time as the spots grow. “When I saw my eyes with all these little dots, like bread crumbs, I was horrified,” recounts Sister Fernandez, who joined the convent in 1956, at age 17. She suffered for almost 40 years before receiving a corneal transplant for her left eye in 2008. Her second transplant was carried out just last week.
The Singapore National Eye Centre Cornea Transplant Programme started in 1991 and has performed more than 3,000 transplants. There are now 23 patients awaiting transplants, a process that takes only three to four weeks because corneas are more readily available than vital organs and much easier to find a match for.
The Singapore Eye Bank - which recovers, evaluates and stores high-quality corneas for transplants –procured 392 last year, with more than 40 per cent coming from local donors. The rest came from international donor banks in the United States and the Philippines.
Sister Fernandez,” born, bred and buttered” in Singapore, was tickled to hear she had waited for a cornea from Florida. Her other cornea is from a local donor. Before, she could read for only 30 minutes before getting a headache from eye strain. Amazingly, she was able to read four days after her last transplant. She is also awed by how clear her vision is now: “I can see the colors in the garden again. “When…….I pray to god, I think of my two donors. I don’t forget… I thank them for giving me my eyesight back.”
How to opt in
If you want to opt-in to the Medical Therapy Education Research Act (MTERA) and pledge to donate your organs and tissues, visit www.liveon.sg. For more information, call the SGH organ donor registry on 6321-4390.