You could be dead tomorrow. Even a strapping young twentysomething like you might get squished in a 10-car pileup, keel over from an undetected heart defect, or choke on the ice cube in your whiskey ginger. While I personally hope that you make it through the week, if you don't, and you have a "D-code" (D is for "Donor") on your driver's license, your corpse might soon be in Cordelia Elsewhere's capable hands. Cordelia has been performing ocular recoveries (cornea removal) for the Lions Eye Bank of Oregon for just over four years, first as a technician and, for the last six months, as a trainer. Every day she's responsible for making miracles happen. Big miracles, like that old standby of Jesus': making blind men see.
How did you get into this line of work?
Donation was always a huge issue for me, ever since I was a little kid. Most people have no idea how many people they can help by being a donor. Or they think they're unfit for some reason. With the exception of HIV and other transmissible diseases, anyone can be a donor.
What tissues do you procure?
Generally what we process for transplant are the cornea and the sclera. We do about 1,200 procurements per year, and place 1,200 corneas for transplant, which means about 50 percent of the tissue goes to research. Eye transplant is the most successful transplant out there; the rejection rate is very low.
Now that you're training techs, are you still out in the field very much?
Yes, we back up the technicians, especially given the volume of donations we have now with the new registry. On May 1, the D-code became first-person consent. Overnight that took our registry from 12,000 people to about 2,000,000 people. That means our technicians will be BUSY.
How many technicians are there?
We have four full-time technicians who cover all of Oregon and southwest Washington, and between 25 and 30 remote technicians throughout the state. [And] Portland technicians will go pretty far—we'll drive 300 miles each way to procure.
Does seeing so much death give you a unique perspective on life?
I'm definitely a lot more laidback. Also I find I appreciate more of what I have: really great friends, my two children.... You get a certain amount of time, then that's it. There's no reason not to be happy.
Favorite part of the job?
Every other year we host a vigil and invite the recipients and the donor families. One guy who frequently comes to our events saw his daughters for the first time when they were like 25. No matter how many times I hear him speak, I get really moved. I think, "That's why I go to work."