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In Miami Beach, a dying mother gives the gift of sight

Marce Cohn/Miami Herald photo

Miriam Aguirre Santos, 61, died Sept. 30 in Miami Beach after a heart attack, but not before writing down her final wish: that her eyes be used to restore her son’s vision.

Days later, doctors at Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute performed what they say is the first mother-son corneal transplant in the history of the institute or the Florida Lions Eye Bank. Juan Aguirre can see clearly out of his left eye for the first time since he was a boy.

“It’s like a whole new world has opened up,” Juan Aguirre, 39, said Thursday in an examination room at Bascom Palmer, part of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “I’m seeing things like I never did before. Everything is very, very colorful.”

Aguirre’s eyesight was damaged at age 5, when a drunken motorcyclist struck him as he walked with his family in their native Cuba.  He and his family moved to South Florida in 1980, about two years later. Despite his injury, he managed to forge a successful music career,recording six albums of roots, Americana, blues and jazz under the name Diablo Dimes.   

When doctors discovered that Aguirre mother, an organ donor, had healthy corneas and a request to donate one to her son, the clock started ticking. Corneas can be preserved a maximum of seven days after death for a transplantation to be successful.

Dr. Guillermo Amescua rushed back from Honduras where he had been doing charity cataract surgeries for the poor to perform the operation. Amescua performs about 50 of the approximately 46,000 U.S. corneal transplants each year. 

Through the healing process, Aguirre said he often finds himself looking at a mirror, staring into his left eye. “I look at my face, and I know a part of her eyes are part of me now. I know that she’ll be with me forever.” Read more.





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