Over 40 Years Later, A Gift of Sight is Still Remembered

Over 40 Years Later, A Gift of Sight is Still Remembered
Every Life Has a Story

Our family services coordinator received a call from Elaine Assad asking about her late husband’s eye donation which occurred in 1971. Elaine shared that after all of these years, she still thinks about her late husband around the anniversary of his death, and she called the eye bank because she was unsure about some details of his donation.

Elaine was 16 years old when she married 20 year old Charles Lucas on July 23, 1968. Sadly, Charles died suddenly at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on March 26, 1971, less than three years into their young marriage. Elaine shared that soon after his death, she told the doctor that she wanted to donate his eyes. At that time, the recovery of the eyes and the cornea transplant surgery needed to take place very quickly and with the assistance of the National Eye Bank Network—a nationwide group of ham radio operators. To this day, Elaine is unsure what prompted her to donate his eyes, but believes she was directed to do so in a spiritual way.

Soon after the donation, Elaine called UI Hospitals and Clinics to learn more about the recipients of Charles’ eyes. The hospital stated they were not allowed to give her that information, but suggested she watch for a newspaper article that was scheduled to hit the press. 

An Iowa City Press-Citizen article on March 26, 1971, titled ‘Blind Boy To Get New Chance at U-Hospital’, answered Elaine’s question. The article chronicles the story of then 5 year old Martin Madriles from Mexico, who was blinded shortly after birth when tincture of iodine was accidentally applied to his eyes instead of a silver nitrate solution which was commonly placed in the eyes of newborn babies.

In the summer of 1970, Martin was found by Dr. Yaeger, a dentist from Charles City, Iowa, while on an annual mission trip to remote villages in Mexico. Martin’s eyes were badly disfigured and in danger of infection. Dr. Yaeger and other members of the mission trip sent photos of Martin’s eyes to Dr. Frederick Blodi, then professor and head of Ophthalmology at UI Hospitals and Clinics , to study.

Dr. Blodi determined that a cornea transplant was needed to restore Martin’s vision, and time was of the essence as doctors feared that Martin’s eyes would soon rupture. The community rallied together and raised money to fly Martin and his father to Iowa for a transplant.

Following Elaine’s recent call to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, old records were retrieved from storage and we were able to confirm that the cornea young Martin received to restore his sight was indeed donated by Charles Lucas. Had Elaine not initiated the offer to donate, it may have been weeks, or even longer, before a cornea became available for Martin. Forty-seven years later, Charles’ gift of sight to another is not forgotten; his legacy is remembered and shared.