WILKES-BARRE — Anita Baldoni will never take her sight for granted.
The 31-year-old nurse from Duryea had her first cornea transplant at 9 years old. Her fourth and most recent transplant was completed in August.
At a Northeast Pennsylvania Lions Eye Bank luncheon Saturday at Genetti’s Hotel and Conference Center, Baldoni thanked her opthamologist, Dr. Thomas Boland, who performed her most recent surgery and has supported her through recovery.
Baldoni inherited a corneal degenerative disease from her mother. It has degraded her sight for as long as she can remember. She said despite the acute pain and stints of near-total blindness, she is hopeful the transplant in August will correct the problem for good. Baldoni and her husband, Tom, have two sons, ages 2 and 4.
“Life doesn’t stop. It can’t stop, especially with kids,” Baldoni said.
Baldoni has learned to live with her trials, some that many would find debilitating. Her family recently vacationed in Cape Cod, Conn., a trip that was interrupted when stitches popped that were holding her new cornea in place and sent them rushing to a local hospital.
As she spoke, her husband, Tom, looked on fondly. Tom praised his wife’s determination in overcoming the disease and said her cheery optimism undoubtedly helped her heal after each procedure.
The two have been married for six years. Tom said helping his wife through the disease has taught him patience.
“You try to put yourself in her shoes,” Tom said. “As much as you want to help her, you can’t. You just have to wait for things to heal and muddle through it.”
“My husband is my right-hand man,” Baldoni said. “He’s been my eyes.”
The cornea is the outermost tissue of the eye. Some diseases that cause blindness can be reversed with different types of corneal transplants using tissue from cadavers.
The Lions Eye Bank finds donors, collects the tissue and connects with patients needing transplants. Agents work with insurance companies to pay for the transplant, but those without insurance may be eligible to receive the tissue for free.
In 2012, there were more than 61,000 recorded corneal transplants, Dr. Boland said at the luncheon. And he and his colleague completed 44 of them. Boland, of the Northeastern Eye Institute, said surgery procedures are improving and recovery that once took years now takes weeks.
Baldoni can attest to that. She returned to work after a week of recovery. Her right eye has 20/25 vision, almost perfect. She said vision in her right eye, subject to the most recent surgery, continues to improve every day.