Cornea transplant recipient tears up: ‘I could see the details of her little face’

SEATTLE — About 10 million people worldwide are currently waiting for cornea transplants, according to SightLife, a local nonprofit.

And every donor makes a big difference. March is National Eye Donor Month.

So here's the story of two women, from two very different 'viewpoints, now taking time to reflect.

In SightLife's headquarters in Seattle, donated corneas are being prepared for transplant. The nonprofit eye bank says it's working to eliminate corneal blindness worldwide.

"A donor cornea is typically the thickness of a credit card," said Monty Montoya, president and CEO of SightLife. "We literally help people see the world through new eyes."

It's possible, thanks to organ donors such as late Washington State Patrol trooper Tony Radulescu.

"We just hit the five-year mark of Tony's passing," said Gina Miller, Radulescu's former girlfriend.

Radulescu was shot and killed while making a traffic stop in Gorst early in the morning of Feb. 23, 2012.

Miller says his corneas were donated to a nurse in California.

"It makes me happy to know that out of such a horrific situation that many, many lives were saved because of Tony's gifts that he was able to give," Miller said.

Montoya says that today, there are only 150,000 transplants available for over 10 million people in need.

"We have been making incredible progress. If you go back to 2010, we were responsible for 4,000 transplants worldwide. Fast forward in 2016 we were responsible for 30,000 cornea transplants worldwide," Montoya said.

Gracie Mercado is one of those recipients.

"About 15 years ago I started to notice that my vision was changing," Mercado said. "Simple tasks such as watching TV, reading a book, even driving became nearly impossible," she said.

Gracie received her cornea transplants in 2012.

"My daughter would ask every day, 'Mom, can you see me yet'?"

Within four months, she could finally answer yes.

"I noticed that I could actually see, I could see the details of her little face," Gracie said, tearing up.

Referring to Gina Miller and the late Trooper and donor Radulescu, Gracie said, "You know to see both sides of it is truly a blessing."