Following is a narrative written by Toni Cervantes, a volunteer photographer who has worked closely with SightLife, LV Prasad and Ramayamma international Eye Bank. She has traveled extensively throughout India, photographing the noble work done by eye banks across the country. ln her travels, she has also spent considerable time with donor families, capturing their stories and the stories of their loved ones. Read through this story ("Bright Spirit") and spend a few minutes discussing how the work carried out by eye donation counselors can not only allow others to see but can also help donor families through the grieving process.
Every parent's worst nightmare is to have to bury one of his or her own children. Beautiful 11-year old Gwonjan was on her way to a Pujah at the Hindu temple to receive a blessing from the Goddess Durga. On her way back home, she stopped at a friend's house before heading to her father's small shop in the neighborhood. She never made it.
A few hundred meters from the safe haven of her father's arms, Gwonjan cherry red bicycle with a pink floral basket hanging in front was hit from behind by an unknown driver who never stopped to claim responsibility for the crime. An upbeat and happy soul like her was well known in the neighborhood. Someone recognized her lifeless body and went running to get the father.
Satish accompanied his daughter to the emergency hospital hoping there was a chance for revival, but Gwonjan had died on the spot. His only wish was that she would speak just once - call out "Papa" – but she could not. She was already gone. His biggest regret is not hearing her voice one more time. After informing the family of the accident, Gwonjan's father went completely numb. From this moment on, he was on automatic pilot with only one thought in mind: against strong family and bureaucratic opposition, he was determined to donate the corneas of his beloved daughter.
It was around 8:00 in the evening when Gwonjan passed away, long past closing time for the legal and technical infrastructure and personnel to approve and endorse the cornea recovery. The father had no idea there was a time limit for donating healthy corneas. When he was informed that the integrity of the tissue is no longer viable for transplant after a few hours, he worked with more urgency. For a little girl who always wanted to do good in the world, her father would not be deterred from making sure that his daughter’s death would not be in vain.
First he had to convince the grieving mother, Rehke, and his other two daughters that this is what Gwonjan would have wanted. The mother, t4-year-old Ayushi and 8-year-old Twinkle were so overcome with grief they said, "No!" Eventually Satish was able to convince them that her death could be of some value; after all Gwonjan was always a god-fearing little girl and wanted so much to do something good in the world - please let this be it.
In the meantime, the manager at the local eye bank was startled awake by an urgent midnight phone call. The wheels were in motion and the clock was ticking. The police were reluctant to proceed, but Gwonjan's father was a self-motivated donor. He had seen the ad campaigns around town and remembered them well. He told the authorities Gwonjan was his daughter and they were in no position to tell him, "No!" He would not be denied. She was his and he had made the decision. lt was final.
The police reluctantly agreed. The next step was for the eye bank manager to coordinate with her staff in order to carry out the recovery. She needed to find a technician who was willing to crawl out of bed in the middle of the night to perform the recovery - and she needed to find one fast. With a blessing from the Goddess Durga, a technician was found. But Gwonjon's neck was so badly broken; the technician could not do the recovery and hold her head correctly at the same time. The father heroically stepped in and gently cradled his daughter's head in his hands one last time as he steadied her for the procedure.
The corneas were tested and they were superb. ln the morning two families were woken up by a life changing phone call. Two young children who had been waiting months for a suitable match were going to be the recipient of Gwonjan's corneas. By 3:00 of that afternoon (in April of 2O11), two successful PK surgeries were performed. Because of the tenacious mission waged by Gwonjan's father, these two kids would have a fighting chance at a normal life.
Satish still thinks of his darling daughter 24 hours a day. He cannot believe she is no more. The house is empty without her. Of the three daughters, Gwonjan was the naughty mischievous one who delighted everyone she met. Twinkle misses her favorite playmate. Ayushi misses the pranks Gwonjan used to play on her. When she entered the Horne she came in dancing, alerting everyone like a signal that she had arrived - her energy was that vibrant.
As the family related the story and their memories of their luminous sister and daughter, tears welled up in their eyes. Throats swelled and tightened from the overwhelming sorrow and disbelief that she is truly gone. That she passed so unexpectedly into the next world was impossible for the family to accept. Three days later, they went to the eye bank begging for the opportunity to meet the recipients, but the eye bank manager refused this request. She was able to convince the family of the legal and emotional ramifications if such a meeting were to take place. lt wasn't easy, but in time they understood the wisdom of maintaining the privacy of both families.
ln conclusion, Gwojan's family urges all people to be brave and courageous when they are faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to donate the corneas of their loved ones. That person is gone and cannot come back, but if his or her corneas are donated, then someone else will have the prospect of a new life. Her mother says, 'A donation is the gift of sight which can help light up the world," one person at a time.
If Gwonjan’s' family has but one wish for the recipients it would be that they embrace life with a passionate vivacity. They pray the beneficiaries carry in their Heart the bright spirit their beloved Gwonjan radiated to all those who crossed her path