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Lehigh Valley

Sightlife helps give gift of sight to those in need

Sightlife helps give gift of sight to...

HANOVER TWP., Pa. - Losing a child is perhaps the greatest pain a parent could ever endure, but Chris and Bill Hankee decided to turn that pain into purpose.

"That day she became a hero to five strangers," Bill Hankee said.

In September 2007, Krysta Hankee died of natural causes after collapsing in a gymnasium.  She was 22 and had just started a new job after graduating college.

"You know that you lost your daughter, a couple hours later they are asking what kind of donation do you want to agree to," Hankee said.

Krysta's parents never envisioned planning her funeral, let alone being asked if they'd like to donate any of her organs.  But they knew it was what Krysta would have wanted.

"We're proud of her for putting organ donor level on her driver's license because it helps us to heal," Bill Hankee said.  "The loss of a child can collapse a family. We have a mission that came out of it. It actually strengthens us."

"We go out to speak about donation, about what we've learned, what we want people to know," Chris Hankee said.

The family now works with Sightlife, a national eye bank with a location in Hanover Township.

Last year, the local office provided more than 1,700 corneas to people in need. Unlike other donations, there's really no such thing as finding a perfect match,

"We don't have to do tissue typing, blood typing, any cornea can go into any person, left can go in right, right can go in left, male to female," said Michael Bearden, vice president of the northeastern region of Sightlife.

In fact, there is no waiting list for a cornea.

"We do donor recovery from here, tissue evaluation, processing, and actually communicate with the surgeons so we distribute tissue directly from here to surgery center for transplantation," Bearden said.

Decades ago, Ron Blaufarb learned he had the early signs of a degenerative corneal disease. A few years ago, he was at the point that he needed not one, but two corneas to restore his vision.

He said he was able to see clearly, for the first time in years, just a day after the procedure.

Years after the procedures, he learned the corneas that saved his vision came from Sightlife, just a mile from his home.

"I didn't even know it was here at the time," Blaufarb said.

Blaufarb said he's grateful for the donor and the professionals that helped him see again because he can now continue watching his children grow, and go on with his passion of officiating NCAA College football games.

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