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Catherine M. Higgins, corneal transplant pioneer; April 7, 1924 -- April 30, 2112

Catherine Moriarity Higgins who gained notice as an early recipient of two corneal transplants, and whose eldest son became the president of Canisius High School -- died Monday at Hospice in Cheektowaga. She was 88.

Mrs. Higgins was a South Buffalo native who graduated from Holy Angels Academy and, in 1945, from D'Youville College, where she was a math major with nearly perfect grades.

Born with normal vision but virtually blind by her mid-20s, she underwent successful eye surgery in New York City by pioneering eye surgeon Ramon Castroviejo, acquiring excellent vision that lasted throughout her life.

"I'll never know who saved me from a life of blindness, but I am eternally grateful," she said in a published interview, referring to the unknown donor of the corneas.

Married to Buffalo attorney James P. Higgins, she devoted herself to bringing up a clan of seven redheaded children in a rambling home on West Ferry Street. Her husband died in 1990.

She suffered tragedy when her youngest, Michael, was paralyzed after a 1988 diving accident in Canada; she cared for him for many years at home. He died in 2004.

She and her husband, along with their 7-year-old son, James, traveled to Rome for a Vatican visit with Pope John XXIII in 1961. She believed this was the origin of her son's religious vocation. A Jesuit, Father Higgins was a master fundraiser as president of Canisius High School; he died of a heart attack in 2009.

She is survived by three daughters, Mary Verdi, Catherine Pilarz and Elizabeth; two sons, John and Thomas; a sister, Mary M. Cottrell; and a brother, James C. Moriarity.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Michael Catholic Church, 651 Washington St.

[SULLIVAN]