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Family raises funds to help others see

(From left) Oxford residents Elizabeth, Cassandra and Jack Perry along with Alison Claerhout, community engagement coordinator for the Michigan Eye-Bank. (click for larger version)
November 24, 2010 - An Oxford family that raised more than $3,000 to help others regain their sight was honored Tuesday by the Michigan Eye-Bank.

Cassandra Perry and her children, Elizabeth, 12, and Jack, 10, received the Shared Vision Award during a special presentation at Clear Lake Elementary.

The award recognizes individuals and organizations that have gone the extra mile in supporting the Eye-Bank and its mission to restore sight.

"(Elizabeth and Jack) set a goal of $2,500, which I thought was pretty ambitious, but they blew that right out of the water," Cassandra said. "You can tell by the look on their faces they're pretty proud."

Elizabeth is a seventh-grader at Oxford Middle School, while Jack is a fifth-grader at Clear Lake.

A variety of things were sold by the Perry family between June and October of this year to raise money for the Michigan Eye-Bank.

Items included pet rocks (created by Jack for a school economic fair), lemonade, jewelry, chocolate bars and baked goods.

The Michigan Eye-Bank recovers, evaluates and distributes human eye tissue for transplantation. Last year, it provided 1,099 corneas for transplant in this state.

It also supports research into the causes and cures of blinding eye conditions, promotes donation awareness through education and provides humanitarian aid to people in need of corneal transplantation throughout the world.

The Perrys' fund-raising efforts took place at Clear Lake, the Oxford Farmers Market, local garage sales, Cassandra's place of employment (GKN Driveline in Auburn Hills) and even in Florida.

They raised money for the Michigan Eye-Bank in appreciation for helping Cassandra keep and improve her vision thanks to a bilateral cornea transplant.

A cornea is the clear, dime-sized tissue found at the front of the eye that functions like a window, allowing light to pass through the eye.

In April 2008, Cassandra was diagnosed with Fuchs' Dystrophy, a slowly progressing hereditary disease that usually affects both eyes and is slightly more common in women than men.

"The bottom layer of the cornea has cells that pump all the excess moisture out of your eyes. With Fuchs' Dystrohy, those cells die," Cassandra explained.

A woman her age should have had 3,000 of these cells per millimeter. "I had about 300 in each eye," she said.

Instead of being pumped out, the excess moisture remained, causing the cornea to swell and distort vision.

As a result, Cassandra had very cloudy vision when she'd wake up in the morning and was forced to wear very thick glasses.

"Without my glasses, I was beyond legally blind," she said.

Even with the glasses she couldn't distinguish colors (purple was black and red was pink) or see the detail in things like leaves and grass. "Trees weren't three-dimensional anymore," Cassandra said.

Following her diagnosis, Cassandra underwent cornea transplants in each eye thanks to donor tissue procured through the Michigan Eye-Bank. In June 2008, her left eye received a transplant from 44-year-old woman. In December, her right eye received a new cornea from a 39-year-old male donor.

Today, as the old song goes, she "can see clearly now." An eyeglass wearer since the fourth-grade, she now only needs her spectacles for reading.

"It was a miracle," Cassandra said. "I did not realize how sick my eyes really were until I could really see."

Her surgeon told her if she had waited another year, she would been completely blind for the rest of her life because the pressure from the excess moisture in her eyes would have severed her optic nerve.

"I would have woken up one day and it would have been 'game over.' You sever your optic nerve there's no going back," Cassandra said. "If it wasn't for my donors, I don't know what I would have done. I can't imagine not watching (my kids) grow up and get married."

"If she didn't have the surgery, we all would have been in trouble," noted Elizabeth, referring to Cassandra's status as a single mother.

"(They) would have had to grow up a lot faster," Cassandra added.

Those interested in donating their eyes (along with organs and tissue) when they die can do so by joining the Michigan Organ Donor Registry (https://services.sos.state.mi.us/OrganDonor/Registry.aspx).

It's not enough to simply sign the back of your driver's license anymore. That changed in 2007. In order to donate, you must be on the registry.

Inspired by the Perrys' commitment to the Michigan Eye-Bank and its good work, Clear Lake held a fund-raiser in which students were allowed to wear sunglasses to class if they made a donation. The school collected $275 for the Eye-Bank.

For more information about the Michigan Eye-Bank, visit www.michiganeyebank.org.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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