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Cornea donor's family, recipient call for more donors

December 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Twenty-year-old Montana native Matthew Lausch was an avid outdoorsman, he played on his high school football and basketball teams, and in May of last year, he became a cornea donor when he was killed in a car accident.

The man whose sight was restored with Matthew's cornea is Fremont resident Marty Sanchez. He met Matthew's parents Monday in San Francisco, hoping to bring attention to the need for donors and the wealth of good they do for recipients.

Sanchez, 57, has keratoconus, a degenerative disease that can lead to blindness. He had his first transplant when he was only 31, but the disease was still at work and he was legally blind last year in the same eye by the time Lausch's cornea was transplanted.

He says he is so grateful it's hard to express. But he says both transplants have done far more than restore his sight. At an early age, his mother committed suicide and his brother-in-law was murdered. Sanchez says the fist transplant saved him.

"I can tell you that I probably wouldn't be sitting here alive had I not changed the way I was living and that all started with a transplant," Sanchez said.

"I just think it's the ultimate gift for anyone to give to another person," Matthew Lausch's father Doug Lausch said.

But for all the good organ and tissue donations do, there are never enough to meet the need. Lausch's donation was managed by the world's biggest eye bank, SightLife. CEO Monty Montoya says California has one of the nation's lowest donor registration rates. SightLife is based in Seattle, but works internationally.

"If you begin from the global level, there are 10 million people waiting in blindness for a cornea transplant today," Montoya said. "One of the big reasons SightLife got involved in Northern California is because there was a shortage of corneas."


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