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Blind for 65 years, now 'new life and light' New cornea donated by an 'angel' opens the world for a Cheektowaga mother of 12

The day after her eye surgery, Patricia A. Stanton sat in her surgeon's office, filled with anxiety about a moment she had never even dreamed would happen.

Since birth, she had been living as a blind person -- an independent woman who had married and raised 12 children.

She could see a little, mostly shapes and cloudy images. But she had never seen the full beauty of a waterfall, the varied hues of a sunset -- or the subtle details of her children's faces.

Until Oct. 12, the day after her corneal transplant, when she received the ultimate October surprise inside the office of Dr. James J. Reidy.

"When he took the patch off, I opened up my eye," she remembered. "It was blurry, but I said, 'Oh, my God.' I saw brightness. I had been living in this cloud for so long."

She got up and walked outside, by herself. Even through the blurriness, all the colors others take for granted began to emerge from her lifelong darkness.

She could see the green leaves on a tree. She could see a squirrel, with its different colors. She saw cars driving by. "I was like a little kid. I was ecstatic," she said. "It was like a miracle."

A couple of days later, she looked into her bathroom mirror and saw something else new -- tears of joy flowing down her face.

"Instead of clouds when you looked into my eyes, there was this perfect beautiful eye shining so bright, like a light from heaven, from my face," she said.

Later, sitting at the dining room table in her Cheektowaga home, she realized something she had never known. "My one daughter, Denise, she has her father's eyes," she said. "I looked at her and said, 'I'm staring at you, and I'm looking at your father.' "

There also are bittersweet moments. She now can look at photos of her two late children, Laurrie, who died at age 20, and Holly, who lived for only 17 months.

"I just would love to have seen them clearly," she said. "Now I can just look at their pictures. It's sad."

Her husband of 46 years, Michael, had been her eyes until his death in 2004.

"My poor husband, he wanted this so bad for me," she said. "Somebody told me Mike can rest now, knowing I can take care of myself."

Stanton's gift of light came from one of about 500 Western New York donors whose corneas are given through Upstate New York Transplant Services each year. About 800 of those 1,000 corneas are transplanted here or elsewhere, although just under half of those are donated in Western New York.

Stories such as Stanton's help spread the message.

"Her case sums up why we do what we do -- the opportunity to save a life or enhance a life," said Mark J. Simon, the chief executive officer. "Her case symbolizes our mission."

Stanton was born with a serious eye infection that caused extensive scarring of both corneas. Long before the days of mainstreaming, the young Patricia Carpenter attended sight-saving classes at School 24 and special classes for the visually impaired at Girls Vocational.

She felt different from other children, but that didn't stop her.

"I was the kind of kid who went up to people and said, 'My name is Pat Carpenter. What's yours?'

"My family never treated me as handicapped. I was treated like the other kids. If they had mollycoddled me, I probably would have been in a shell. They didn't do that, and I'm grateful for it."

As she aged, she experienced problems with what little sight she had. Once, she went completely blind for 10 days. Other times, she had visual blackouts. With her weaker right eye, she could see only a little bit of light.

"I used to pray to God: If I lose my sight [completely], I want to go home."

She couldn't read the newspaper, so her husband would sit down every night and read it to her. When she walked into a strange environment, she felt bewildered, so her husband would take her hand and guide her.

He was her rock, until his death in March 2004.

"He was in here dying, and I'd look out the window and say, 'Lord, what am I going to do?' I was scared."

Last summer, Stanton's ophthalmologist, Dr. Theodore P. Prawak, told her about the technology that could restore sight in her better eye, the left one, through a corneal transplant.

Fearful of losing what vision she had, she met with Reidy, the medical director of eye and tissue services for Upstate Transplant. He told her the risks were relatively low.

"Mrs. Stanton," she remembers him telling her, "you've been in the dark too long, and now you're going to see."

In the Oct. 11 surgery performed by Reidy, the 65-year-old Stanton had a corneal transplant, a cataract removal and a lens implant.

Stanton has written a letter to the family of her donor.

"I want you to know that your precious angel who donated their cornea will walk with me through a new life and light and see the world all over again for the first time with me," she wrote.

"Your family has my greatest blessings and gratitude for allowing me to see the world while I am still here, instead of staying in the darkness until I go with the angels some day."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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