Gary Biles travelled to heaven at 70 years of age, July 2011. He graciously donated corneas to SightLife when he passed. Gary strived for excellent performance and was known for his courteous nature and memorable laughter.
After being recruited into the Navy, he served first on a destroyer (battleship) then as a Sonar Technician on a submarine. He adopted his son after he wed in 1971. His daughter was born in 1974. The whole family enjoyed traveling, sightseeing, fishing, camping, and hiking. Gary divorced in 2003.
Service in the Navy was followed by his civilian dedication for the US Army as a computer programmer analyst. He received numerous recognitions and awards for commitment to the positions held and professionalism while performing duties. He retired after 43 years. Gary was honored with a military service at Tahoma National Cemetery.
Gary enjoyed nature and participated in fishing and camping. Some of his numerous trips included the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake. Gary also enjoyed watching movies and drinking coffee, and he always lent a helping hand. He volunteered and had a drive for learning new things such as real estate.
Gary's two children told SightLife they think their father would like to be remembered as having a good sense of humor and that an important lesson they learned from him was to be on time. They continued, "...we visited the cemetery just prior to Veteran's Day in his honor and attended his family Christmas Eve Dinner just as he would have and hope to continue with the family functions as such."
Donate Life's 2010 Rose Bowl Float celebrated the life of Thomas Dunn. An adventurer of extraordinary spirit and generosity, Thomas passed forward the gift of sight after dying in a hiking accident.
Thomas Dunn was a vibrant 27-year-old who had a huge passion for life and God. He loved sports, traveling and adventures, and had an ability to make people laugh. Tom dedicated a lot of his time to mentoring the youth at his church and considered himself an ambassador for the Lord. In 2003, Tom graduated with a business degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he belonged to the AGO Christian fraternity. He loved his job working as a project manager for KDS Plumbing in San Jose and had purchased his first home just three months before he died.
In August 2008, Tom was visiting a friend in Seattle. While hiking at Mt. Si, Tom slipped and fell 200 feet on his descent. Rescuers could not get to him in time. Although he knew that he took risks, Tom believed that you have to live your life to the fullest. In fact, he would often say, "You've gotta live!" Tom died doing something he loved.
"Since the day Tom got his driver's license, he made the decision to be an organ donor," said his father, Ron Dunn. "Of course, he never knew this selfless act would result in two people getting the gift of sight. Our family has some comfort in knowing that two people now have sight because of receiving Tom's corneas and hope to meet those people someday.
"Tom was an amazing son, brother, uncle and friend. His death has greatly impacted our family. We traveled together and gathered for dinner every Sunday. Tom left behind a huge legacy of friends and has left all of us striving to be better people."
Family was an essential part of Jennifer's life, whether as a mom, wife, sister, or daughter. She helped others without hesitation, reaching out with endless patience and caring. She could not help but take care of the underdog. Jennifer's kind spirit drew people to her and left a lasting impression. Her family knew that becoming a donor was what she would want since she had shared that wish with them. Her father, Martin, says that because Jennifer was a tissue and cornea donor, the focus shifted away from her death and now reflects directly on her kind spirit.
"Dusty Lehman passed away unexpectedly on September 20, 2010 from a brain aneurism," writes her husband, Mark Lehman. "She was one of those rare individuals who brought joy and laughter to everyone she met. She was a vibrant, beautifully funny, and loving person, who loved life and was full of life, so it is only fitting that she has given to others the precious gift of sight with her cornea donation, along with her kidney donation to a 47 year old father of two, and with her liver donation to a 28 year old single mother of two, the chance to live their lives to their fullest."
"Being a donor, if it is possible, helps those with the loss of a loved one by turning the negative situation into a positive experience by knowing that the donations impact not only the recipients, but their families and friends as well."
Thank you, Mark, for sharing Dusty's story with us!
Michael struggled with depression for years, finally resulting with him taking his own life. His mother Melissa says, "It has been difficult. What has helped me with my grief is knowing that part of him has helped others to have a more fulfilling life."
As a nurse for over 32 years, Melissa has worked in operating rooms assisting doctors with the transplanting of life saving organs. She's so glad that her son indicated his donation decision by a heart on his driver's license.
"That's just the kind of person Michael was — very caring."
Michael, shown here with his newborn niece, is responsible for "giving the gift of sight" to two individuals.
Eleven-year-old Dakota saw the red heart on his mother's driver's license and asked what it meant. His mother explained that she was an organ donor. "WOW! That is so cool mom," he told her. "I want to be an organ donor too!"
One week later Dakota died in a tragic gun accident. The boy with the big laugh, the flaming red hair and the passion for snakes and bugs made his gift way before the world wanted or expected.
"I know that he is in heaven and very glad that he could help someone see," says his mother Tanya in a letter to his cornea recipient. "He would help anyone who needed it, hold doors for anyone he could, and was the most compassionate child you could ask for. May your new gift of eyesight be seen and felt with the same enthusiasm and love that Dakota had."
Through cornea and tissue donation, Dakota restored sight to two people, including a one-year-old child.
Fondly known as "Skip" to his family, Bob Shinn, a.k.a. "Uncle Skip," worked for the telephone company for 30 years. After retiring in 1993, Bob sold his live-aboard 40' Grand Banks and bought property in Washington to build his retirement home. A creative man with a generous spirit, Bob's love of music and jokes was infectious. Bob would always be the life of the party, playing his guitar and singing songs. During his tenure at the phone company, Bob often volunteered to work holidays so co-workers with children could spend time with their families. Bob believed in working hard and playing hard. In the end, his generous gift of sight proved his love of life and humanity.
My wife Michele was truly a hero in many ways. She became a devoted Christian woman in the early eighties; she went to Bible school and helped many people in counseling and service to the Lord for several churches and many people over the years. She was blessed with a special spiritual relationship with God; she did receive many miracles of healing in her lifetime.
I'm glad her contribution reached the global regions of Japan and Venezuela; I am truly blessed these individuals will benefit a better quality of life through the legacy of her passing. I only hope that someday, these recipients might be able to see life as she did, through a different lens. Maybe they will be able to see the face of God someday, now that she is in Heaven forever with her new glorified body.
She was a strong, witty, and spirited lady. Her will and determination to carry on each day was truly remarkable to say the least. Her doctors, pastors, friends, and relatives were all amazed that our Lord carried her through challenges and triumphs in her life span.
I lost my sister Wanda to pancreatic cancer February 21, 2010, after a year long battle. She was 75. We were very close, although she lived in Washington State and I in California. I miss those many phone visits we had several times a week.
I was blessed to be with her the final weeks of her life as she lay in the hospital surrounded by many friends and relatives. Her body was wasted and weak, but her faith and love were strong. There was always someone with her, even during the night, and I'm thankful for that. The caring staff and doctor at the hospital couldn't have been more kind and helpful. I felt there were angels in that room.
She passed at 8:55pm as I held her hand. She just turned her head to the side and let go of life. I swear I saw a subtle change of her color, as though heaven's glow told me she would be all right. Then they took me to the office to sign the donor papers, and she was able to give one last gift. I had thought that after the chemotherapy and illness there wouldn't be much she could donate, but I'm glad she was able to help someone. I know that was what she would have wanted.
— Janet Simon
Deborah, a nurse practitioner from California, struggled for months to find the right words to express her gratitude before meeting her cornea donor's girlfriend, Gina. "I'm so thankful," Deborah told Gina. "It's an unbelievable gift that you and Tony have given me."
Gina's boyfriend, Tony, was a Washington State trooper who was killed in the line of duty. Tony was a registered organ donor, so five days after his death, Deborah received one of his corneas. Deborah was gradually going blind and was suffering from blurry, double vision. Driving at night and reading text were impossible and she was afraid she would soon have to retire and abandon the low-income patients she served at Pittsburg Health Center.
The fact that Deborah has spent her career helping others is not lost on Gina. "Things have come full circle," she said. "Tony loved to help others and so does she. Now she can keep doing it."
"Shy, sweet and yet, full of spunk," is how David, Tia's father, describes her. With a sincere love for animals, she had dreams of becoming a veterinarian and was saving to get a poodle one day. On one occasion she was so concerned about the welfare of a frog that when it seemed to be in distress, Tia decided to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Tia was such a giving person that after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., she went through her neighborhood collecting cans and clothing to be donated to a local mission. At the age of 11, Tia gave gifts of life and sight to eight people.
My mother was the Queen of our family. She never hurt a fly, didn't have an enemy in the world and everyone who ever knew her... loved and adored her. All the nephews and nieces swore she was "their" favorite aunt. My mother was an only child, born in Oakland, raised in Hayward most of her life. She was a Native American Indian (Sioux) woman and proud of it, lol. She was granted her Angel Wings at the graceful age of 70 on December 19th, 2012. She had 3 children, 2 daughters and 1 son. I am the youngest daughter; the oldest daughter preceeded her in death in 2004. She has 10 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren who were a huge part of her life.
She spent her life as a devoted wife, raising her children & grandchildren. She loved the SF 49er's, outdoors, cooking and shopping. She loved listening to Oldies but Goodies, Ranchera/Texano music, reading, spending time with family & friends. She had a smile that could light up any room. She was a loving, loyal friend & family member to all who adored her. She could make you laugh by just one look and her sense of humor was out of this world. No matter what situation arose she was always there for her loved ones 24/7. She will be greatly missed by family & friends.
She started getting ill about 4 years ago but didn't let me take her to see a doctor until about 2 years ago. She had several chronic conditions that were left untreated for years because she hadn't been to see a doctor in over 14 years by choice. In the last 12 months; my mother had 5 emergency surgeries...all to save her life. The last one...she did not recover from. She is a corneal donor. We recently recieved a beautiful letter telling us that my mother's cornea's were successfully transplanted to give someone the special gift of sight. She was also a donor of skin for babies born with cleft lips and burn victims.
Our grief is still heavy on all of us and she will always be missed but knowing that a piece of my mother is giving this speical gift of sight to someone who could not see before is so much like my mother who was such a precious woman. We are comforted with the thought of knowing my mother was able to help others in such a special way.
On behalf of the Gonzales & Corrales family; I would like to thank you SightLife for all that you do and all that you are. This is an amazing organization. We have decided to write to the donor recipient in hopes to hear back from them.
God Bless You All & Keep You All Safe Now and Always. Here is my Mother, RIP Mom, I love you to the Moon and back! (**Flea**)
Martin Sanchez wanted the world to know how the generous act of a stranger made it possible for him to see again.
Doug and Libby Lausch wanted to meet the man who received restored sight from their son. And they wanted the world to know that cornea donation helps families of the donor, too, by giving them something life affirming to focus on.
The three met after cornea recipient Martin and donor parents Libby and Doug contacted SightLife independently about their wish to know more about the people on the other end of a gift that held such meaning in their lives.
The meeting in Martin's home town of San Francisco began with a heartfelt hug and ended in a friendship that will last forever.
A front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle and a long feature on the city's highest-rated evening news program shared their story with the rest of the city.
Thank you Libby, Doug, and Martin for being such caring people. Your selflessness in going public to educate others about the importance of cornea donation will give joy and comfort to others for generations to come.
From an early age Matt was always trying to help others, and as he grew older he became very aware of volunteerism. One time when we were leaving the Wal-Mart in Missoula, he gave his last $5 to a man that was begging for help. I asked him why he had done that, "Because mom, you never know when you might need help. You may as well help others while you can." I never would have thought of a 15 year old boy thinking that way. Matthew touched many people in his short life on so many levels. He gave the gift of life through eye and organ donation.
Thank you Matt, for being such a caring and loving young man.
Jarrod was a very bright and loving child and was the kind of kid who would either give his lunch to another student who was hungry or would ask his parents to send extra food with him to school to help a hungry friend. He became very involved with his local church and led the youth group in which he made a large impact on a few of the young men he worked with. When he was 23 years old, Jarrod was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He fought a good fight, but the cancer was unrelenting, and Jarrod lost the battle. The influence Jarrod made on his community and family lives on in a loving and positive way.
"Hannah Marie Rhoades had beautiful green eyes," her mother Joan wrote. Hannah tragically died in car accident on April 3rd, 2011. Her surviving family includes her mother, her father Nick, and her two brothers, Andy and Daniel. The family misses Hannah very much as they were all very close. Joan said, "I miss my daughter more than I can express." Hannah's parents are very proud of the life she lived and said of her, "you could not find a better friend or a bigger heart". She continued, "Hannah was very giving and would have wanted to give the gift of sight to someone. This I believe helps Hannah live on."
How did the two of you meet?
We were living in Manson, WA. Once day there was a car wreck right in front of my house. My mother went running to see what had happened. Jerry was in the accident! He was OK, and from that he met my brothers. I did not meet him right away but when I did my brothers approved. They had a feeling we would start dating had we met. We dated for a while before we got married. I was 17 and he was 22.
What were some of the best times you had together?
Definitely having our three children. We really enjoyed watching them grow up. We did a lot of camping with the children and Jerry was involved with their little league, girl scouts – whatever they were involved in, he was too. We had an adventurous car trip once. When we moved up to Alaska, we took the Al-Can and drove all the way with the 2 children and one on the way!
We had a lot of BBQs in the backyard.
Jerry came from a family of 13. He was number 4. For 15 years we would go meet one of his brothers on the coast of Oregon. We loved those vacations, especially Jerry. It is so beautiful there. You know, you don't really realize what is important 'til someone is gone. And you realize it's all the little things that you did together and what they brought to your life.
Jerry truly enjoyed life and tried to do everything in life.
What's something about Jerry that makes you smile when you think about it?
Jerry was always joking and teasing. Every Christmas he would wait until the last minute to go shopping, and then he would just sit and think in his chair for hours until he thought of something. He was almost scrooge like up until that point but he would always turn around. Then when I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he would say, "Just you."
He always would stick out his tongue when I tried to take a picture of him. Not all the time I suppose, but I do have a great deal of photos with him sticking out his tongue!
Also he would mow the lawn in this silly straw hat. I laugh when I think about it. He would go out in this silly hat, and I would call him in and he would just laugh at me.
What do you think Jerry would want his cornea recipients to cherish looking at?
The person's family. Children and grandchildren. He was always beaming when he looked at his family. And the beauty of scenery. He was always found of nature, especially Alaska.
What has helped you in your grief?
Talking about my grief and talking about Jerry. I made a quilt from all his old tank tops, and I just wrap myself in it sometimes. And donating his corneas has helped. It's very healing to me that his eyes are helping someone.
What has the impact of his cornea donation been on your life?
I talk about his donation a lot and have talked to people about considering choosing donation. I have decided that I will donate mine if I can! I have talked a lot about it to his co-workers and everyone else I talk to about Jerry. I have talked to so many people about it.
He was able to make such a difference in someone's life, and I think that is great. It made me think about my own impact on this world. I would sometimes share this with Jerry. He would tell me that my work I do as a hair stylist at a senior center was making a positive impact in people's lives. I realized that he was right.
Seventeen-year-old Drew Swank of Valley Christian School died Sept. 27, 2009, from brain trauma suffered in a football game against a neighboring high school.
In news reports following Andrew's death, friends and family described the popular junior with the gift for making people laugh as a hero and a Christian. Several expressed hope of someday meeting recipients who benefited from Andrew's gifts of renewed life and hope through organ and tissue donation. Among those recipients, two people can now see through his donation of cornea tissue.
"His family loves him so much and is so appreciative of everyone's thoughts and prayers," the family said in a news release. "Andrew is donating his organs so others' lives can be saved."
He is survived by his parents, four sisters, and three brothers.
Rayna met her husband Jason when she was 17 and he was 15 years old. He kept asking her out, and she kept saying, "No." But Jason was relentless. Rayna finally said yes, but only for 24 hours. During that fateful day, they had a math class together. Jason knew he had to make a good impression fast, so he brought a sour apple Blow Pop to give Rayna. Unfortunately, that didn't do the trick. After the 24 hours, Rayna looked all of over their school for him so she could end the relationship – but to no avail. There was no sign of him. She finally got word from one of his friends that Jason was in the hospital with a broken leg.
It must have been hard to break up with an injured person, because those 24 hours turned into 24 years. They married and had two children. The Blow Pop tradition continued through their marriage. Jason would bring Rayna sour apple Blow Pops on every birthday, anniversary, Valentine's Day, etc.
Jason was always a giving person, so it was no wonder he gave someone the gift of sight. He was always willing to give food and money to those who needed help.
Rayna said of Jason, "He was a wonderful husband, father, son, grandfather, and friend. Jason was a giving man. That's why he chose to be a donor."
Rayna continued, "We were soul mates and still are. Now I take him sour apple Blow Pops."