Lions Gift of Sight Today Newsletter:
A publication for our friends and partners

Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Neurosciences
University of Minnesota

Fall-Winter 2022

© Copyright 2022 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. 
Lions Gift of Sight TODAY is published twice a year by the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Lions Gift of Sight
1000 Westgate Drive - Ste 260
Saint Paul, MN 55114

For more information, visit or call 612-625-5159.

Lions Gift of Sight (LGS) is a community-based non-profit eye bank. Founded in 1960, it is the oldest donation organization in Minnesota. LGS serves the needs of donors and recipients in Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and North Dakota, 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year. LGS distributes corneas for transplant and eyes and corneas for research and medical education.

With a stringent eye bank quality assurance program that audits all aspects of operations, LGS upholds the highest tissue quality standards. LGS is accredited by the Eye Bank Association of America, inspected by the Food and Drug Administration, and follows OSHA and University of Minnesota Office of the Vice President for Research guidelines. LGS is a proud part of the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Table of Contents

Executive Director Message

Funeral Home Partners

Lions International Board Visit

Lions Clubs International Convention

Out and About: Community Events

Eye Bank Association of America

World Cornea Congress

Cornea and Eye Banking Forum

LGS Tissue Distribution Team

Donor Spotlight

Better Together

I have been thinking a lot about partnerships lately. Industrialist Henry Ford, sports legend Michael Jordan, naturalist Charles Darwin, humanitarian Mother Teresa—successful people who have made lasting impressions on our world—all attest to the benefits of working together. And we need look no further than our own Helen Keller, who said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much,” for guidance.

Throughout our existence, Lions Gift of Sight has depended on strong working partnerships between the Lions and the University of Minnesota. But in the last four years, accelerating in the last four months, our eye bank has stepped up our efforts still further to make an impact through collaborations. I want to highlight a few in this issue of Lions Gift of Sight Today.

Donation Partners

What first comes to mind is our work to strengthen our relationship with our donation partner LifeSource. Our two entities have struggled to communicate over the last four years. We have each promoted our own worthy missions more than the collective mission of eye, organ, and tissue donation. These practices are at an end, and Lions Gift of Sight and LifeSource are now earnestly working in tandem. We have so much good we can accomplish for the populations we serve, and we thank LifeSource for meeting us more than halfway.

“LifeSource is proud to partner with Lions Gift of Sight on the shared mission of donation. Clear strides have been made during 2022 to deepen and solidify our relationship, which is of mutual benefit to our respective missions and to the community.” Peter Farstad, Interim CEO

Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin

Our fantastic donation partner to the east, Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, reached out to us for help with lab operations training. Lions Gift of Sight trainer, Lori Pederson, was happy to help and now spends around 30 hours a week at the eye bank’s Madison office.

Paired Peripheral Incisions

Lions Gift of Sight Medical Director, Dr. Joshua Hou, in partnership with local surgeon Dr. Mark Hansen, has developed a tissue preparation method that makes corneal grafting easier for surgeons: paired peripheral incisions. LGS approached Moria Ophthalmic Instruments to manufacture a punch that would automate the addition of these incisions to corneal grafts, bringing the technique to all corneal surgeons. Together we created a method that is better for surgeons and better for patients!

Cell Counting Software

LGS is partnering with the imaging software company ADCIS in Saint-Contest, France, to produce a tool that automatically measures the overall cell health of a donor cornea. The current evaluation of donor corneas is an antiquated process limited by sampling error and evaluator subjectivity. This new software tool provides accurate and unbiased information about the quantity of endothelial cells that remain healthy at the end of eye bank processing, allowing eye surgeons to better assess which corneas will be most beneficial to their patients.

I want to thank every one of our partners for making us a better eye bank!

Achieving Excellence: Partnering with Minnesota Funeral Homes

Did you know? Minnesota is home to more than 550 licensed funeral homes and more than 1,100 licensed morticians and funeral directors! Minnesota Funeral Directors Association (MFDA) is a resource dedicated to supporting their members’ growth, professionally, ethically, and operationally. Their mission is to enhance and support funeral service excellence. Another important organization in our state is the Arrowhead Funeral Directors Association, focusing on the northeastern part of Minnesota. Members of these two associations convened in person at locations throughout the state in September and October for District Meetings and Continuing Education.

Lions Gift of Sight was present at each of these meetings as well as at the Minnesota Funeral Directors Convention in May. Our staff appreciated the opportunity to express our heartfelt gratitude in person for the instrumental role funeral service staff play in supporting eye and cornea donors and their families. These donors selflessly gave the Gift of Sight nearly 2,000 times in 2021! Well over one half of these gifts supported vital research, medical education, and training.

After a pandemic pause, LGS Partner & Community Relations instructors look forward to the academic year ahead and returning to support classroom efforts in collaboration with Kelly Romanowski, LifeSource Funeral Director Liaison and Mortuary Science Teaching Specialist. Educating the next generation of morticians and funeral directors is both a pleasure and a responsibility.

Eye donation, while the most common among organ, eye, and tissue donations, is still relatively rare. Just one half of one percent of all deceased persons in 2021 became eye donors in Minnesota.

While there are valid reasons not everyone becomes a donor, we know that we can do better. So, when meeting with funeral service partners across the state, we asked for their thoughtful consideration on how they might help meet the need for corneas for transplant and eye tissue for research. We also presented Minnesota statutes that support access to funeral homes for the purpose of recovering anatomical gifts. We shared a solution used successfully by a number of funeral homes: 24/7 keypad access for recovery staff. This practice is a win for all.

This year we also featured the impactful donation story of eye donor and hospice patient Dan Gowan, as told by his wife Ronda. (Dan’s story can be found on p. 8.) We often focus on the benefits that donation gives to corneal recipients and scientists. But the hope and healing that donation can give to family members should never be overlooked.

Our commitment to assuring every person has the same opportunity for donation, regardless of where they die or which funeral home they choose, is steadfast. As we enter this special season of thanks and giving, we are especially grateful to the many funeral service partners who wholeheartedly support eye donation and are our Eye Donation Champions. We are equally grateful to those that are open to exploring the power they possess to play a positive role in eye, organ, and tissue donation. Let’s achieve excellence together!

“What is funeral service? I believe that funeral service is more than just an industry.  It is real-life people: morticians, support staff, grief specialists, product and service suppliers, and the list goes on and on. Funeral Service is people that come together with full hearts; and that give freely of those hearts to the families and the communities that we are so privileged to serve .”  MFDA Board President, Brian Dingman, Minnesota Funeral Directors Association Bulletin Fall 2022


Lions International Board Visits Minnesota

“Together we can! ”

— Lion Brian Sheehan, International President

In October, International President Lion Brian Sheehan, the International board of directors, Lions International staff, and many partners in service from all over the world visited Minnesota to conduct business and learn more about Lions Multiple District 5M (Minnesota, Manitoba, and Northwest Ontario).

Countries of origin for the 150 guests included Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United States. This variety accurately reflects the International aspect of Lions, who have been reaching across borders for more than 100 years.

Many festivities were planned throughout Minnesota to highlight the beauty and allure of our state. While in the Twin Cities, visitors were treated to dinner at the historic Minneapolis Club and an Oktoberfest celebration at the Nicollet Island Inn Pavilion. Then they headed north to see what Duluth and Brainerd had to offer, not the least of which was the stunning autumn colors!

While the International Board was conducting business, the partners of board members came to Lions Gift of Sight for lunch, talks, and a tour. Staff from every avenue of the eye bank helped teach about the intricacies of eye banking and about the world-class research being conducted or facilitated by LGS.

It is a privilege to share our mission with others who give service from the heart!

Lions International Convention

The world’s largest humanitarian service organization celebrated several milestones during the 104th annual Lions Clubs International Convention in Montréal, Québec, in July. More than 6,700 Lions from 127 countries attended this pinnacle event, which reconnected people from around the world, shared innovative ways to grow and support clubs, and commemorated another year of serving communities in need.

Lions Clubs International Foundation announced the results of Campaign 100, a 5-year initiative to raise $300 million to address the needs of communities both local and global. LCIF surpassed its goal, raising $324.6 million!

Out and About

Lions Gift of Sight loves to participate in community, national, and international events, both Lions and donation related. Here is a sampling of LGS outreach since our last newsletter.

  • LGS staff were there to greet and educate the public at a booth in the University of Minnesota building at the State Fair. We made many great connections with visitors, including doctors, donor family members, corneal recipients, people with vision issues, and donation advocates.
  • After a 2-year hiatus, Lions Youth Exchange participants returned to Lions Gift of Sight for their annual July tour. 21 students from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Mongolia, Norway, Poland, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey were treated to Eye Banking 101 with demonstrations in cornea recovery, evaluation, and processing, education about research, and an overview on LGS and Lions.

  • Special friends of Lions Gift of Sight, the Burnsville-Savage Lions Club, stopped by for a tour on September 26. This club has donated more than $36,000 to the eye bank of late, gifting LGS with a biological safety cabinet, recovery staff uniforms, ergonomic equipment for the lab, a Voice over Internet Protocol phone system for the donor coordination staff, and more! For their generosity and continuous support, the club was presented with an Eye Donation Champion plaque.

  • Hospital Liaisons Mandy Duong and Lynn Balfour attended the Donate Life America Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, soaking up knowledge, making valuable contacts, mingling with others in the donation field, and representing Lions Gift of Sight.

  • The weather could not have been more beautiful for the 27th LifeSource Golf Classic at Majestic Oaks Golf Club in Ham Lake. LifeSource staff and friends were impeccable hosts, and Lions Gift of Sight provided a golfing foursome, sponsored a hole, and staffed an information table at the event. The tournament was originally started by Scandia Marine Lions Jim and Marilyn Opp to honor their daughter Terri, who died awaiting a heart transplant.

  • In June, LGS participated in a mission trip through EyeLife, and contributed six corneas to the Basra Teaching Hospital sight restoration program, a partnership of Turkish and Iraqi doctors. This mission saved the sight of 20 patients!

  • The Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation held its annual appreciation event, Thanksgiving for Vision, on October 22. Symposium speakers included LGS Business Analyst Amber Benbow (Making a Difference with Data), Dr. Joshua Hou (Automated Software for Donor Cornea Evaluation), Dr. Glenn Lobo (Importance of Dietary Vitamin A Receptors for Visual Function) and LifeSource Communications Director Sarah Sonn (Better Together: Increasing Donor Registrations in Minnesota.) The lunch program featured two excellent speakers: donor family member Ronda Gowan and corneal recipient Maria Huerta-Lopez.

Eye Bank Association of America

The Eye Bank Association of America Annual Meeting was June 1- 4 in Baltimore, Maryland. Eye bankers representing Lions Gift of Sight this year were: Patrick Becker (laboratory operations); Peter Bedard, Dr. Joshua Hou, Sung Lee, and Dr. Ching Yuan (research); Amber Benbow (quality); Nancy McGee (tissue recovery); Sean Poppoff (administration); Jolie Schmidt (donor coordination); and Patty Stockdale (partner relations). Each of these staff members added value to the meeting while soaking up knowledge and networking 24/7. Here are some highlights:

  • Patty Stockdale  presented “Conflict Resolution in Relationship Management” in a session on Managing and Resolving Conflict with Individuals and Organizational Partners.
  • Joshua Hou, M.D., moderated the Medical Director Symposium. He is also vice chair for the Scientific Symposium Committee and helped moderate the sessions.
  • Peter Bedard, M.S., presented “Accuracy of automated software for assessing endothelial cell loss on Trypan-stained, peeled DMEK” at the Scientific Symposium.
  • Ching Yuan, Ph.D., presented “In vitro comparison of SARS-CoV-2 Cell-entry inhibitors in donor cornea cells” at the Scientific Symposium.
  • Sung Lee presented “Low-friction coating of modified Jones tubes significantly improves the post-ejection cell viability of DMEK grafts” at the Scientific Symposium. Congratulations to Sung who took home best paper honors!

World Cornea Congress

World Cornea Congress VIII, held September 28-29 in Chicago, brought together cornea, refractive, and cataract specialists and offered symposia, courses, labs, papers, posters, panel presentations, and Q&A with leading ophthalmologists from around the world.

A spotlight Session on COVID-19 included the presentation, “Ocular Manifestations of COVID-19” by LGS Medical Director, Joshua Hou, M.D.

Cornea and Eye Banking Forum

A partnership between the Cornea Society and the Eye Bank Association of America, the Cornea and Eye Baking Forum took place immediately following the World Cornea Congress. Joshua Hou, M.D.  was the program chair.

At the forum, David Hardten, M.D., presented the case series “DMEK with Young Donor Tissue Using Paired Radial Incisions.” Co-authors on this study are Joshua Hou, M.D., Peter Bedard, and Natalie Buckman (all from Lions Gift of Sight) and Mark Hansen, M.D.

Inspection results will be released at the June EBAA meeting.

Employee Spotlight: Tissue Distribution Team

A full-service eye bank is responsible for finding a home for all the eyes and corneas that it recovers from donors. Unlike donated tissues, which usually go to a central processor, or donated organs, which are allocated by UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), most U.S. eye banks send corneas directly to a surgery center for transplant.

Lions Gift of Sight has developed personal relationships with more than 30 surgeons who regularly tap us for transplant tissue. And the people who know these surgeons best, monitor how they like corneal tissue prepared for their patients, and track what city, building, and room to ship or deliver corneal tissue to are Natalie and Panhia, our Tissue Distribution Team.

These two execute a carefully choreographed dance between the tissue that Lions Gift of Sight has recovered for transplant and the week’s surgery schedule. On a daily basis, Natalie Buckman (Distribution Manager and Surgeon Relations Liaison) and Panhia Yang (Distribution Coordinator) review all the transplant-eligible donated corneas and compare them to the calendar of surgeries that have been scheduled with us. Some surgeries only transplant the inner layer of the cornea, so the condition of the outer layer does not matter. Some surgeries only transplant the outer layer of the cornea, so the condition of the inner layer does not matter. This dynamic duo finds the best match for each surgery, shares the de-identified tissue details with the surgeon, and requests the needed processing from the Lions Gift of Sight eye bank scientists. After the corneas are processed, they arrange shipment to surgery centers.

It’s all about timing! A cornea is typically transplanted within 10-12 days of a donor’s death, and processing and shipping time must be factored in. Each week may offer either a shortage or surplus of corneas, and you never know what to expect. Fortunately, eye banks have always been good at working together to even out the tissue supply. When all U.S. surgical needs are met, eye banks address the worldwide need for transplant corneas as well. One day we are importing and the next exporting. Again, it’s all about timing.

The best compliment you can pay the distribution team is to not realize the efforts that go into the outcome. Whether you know it or not, Natalie and Panhia are working weekdays and weekends, nine to five and after hours, fulfilling scheduled surgeries and emergency needs. They do everything they can to honor donors and serve transplant surgeons, and they are true eye bank heroes.

Let’s not forget research!

Lions Gift of Sight Research Team members, Dr. Ching Yuan, Peter Bedard, SiJie Chen, and Sung Lee, have their own dance to perform, involving all the tissue brought in for research and the many clients they serve.

Lions Gift of Sight is one of the top five eye banks in the world in the distribution of research and medical education tissues. Research is essential in the fight against blindness and the efforts to restore vision.

Research tissue is often more time-sensitive than transplant tissue! So Ching, Peter, SiJie, and Sung work weekdays and weekends to honor the gifts of human eye tissue and to support the research studies that are advanced by these gifts.

In addition to distributing donor tissue to other scientists, the LGS research team partners with researchers studying macular degeneration and other debilitating eye diseases. They also conduct in-house research on limbal stem cells, graft processing and storage, endothelial cell evaluation, COVID-19 — the list goes on! This team is what makes Lions Gift of Sight world-renowned.

Donor Spotlight: Dan Gowan

Service in life; service after death

Dan Gowan did many extraordinary things in his life, yet he always celebrated the accomplishments of everyone else first. He was a husband, father, grandfather, veteran, volunteer, friend, and Dan performed all of these roles with purpose and integrity.

At the age of 20, Dan joined the United States Coast Guard shortly before marrying his wife of 37 years, Ronda. Their first posting was in Kodiak, Alaska, a life Dan thrived in. He loved working in the medical and dental clinics. He became a flight corpsman and was given the opportunity to go to X-ray technician school. He began flight duty, and the happiest Ronda had ever seen Dan was after a successful rescue mission. During his three years in Alaska, Dan delivered babies in the helicopter, rescued fishermen, extricated pilots from training exercises, and received a medal of honor for a particularly difficult rescue that required his team to use their teeth to pull the victims in, since clothing was too saturated and frozen to hold with their hands.

Dan retired from the Coast Guard, and he and Ronda moved back to Minnesota to raise their growing family. He went to respiratory therapy school and began working at Regions Hospital, where he stayed for more than 13 years. He loved everything about Regions: the variety of experience, the respiratory therapy team, educating and mentoring others. Dan became a grandparent, one of his greatest joys. He always said that his three children and four grandchildren were his best achievements.

In 2014, Dan was diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis, a rare disease that eventually took his life. He left his job at Regions, one of the hardest things he ever had to do. But he became a faithful volunteer at the eye bank, assisting the technical team with recovery and the administrative team with many projects, in particular our beloved Donor Recognition Program.

“Sometimes I want to forget the years he was sick,” said Ronda. “But those years were a big part of who he became, and I happily remember the road trips we took early in his illness and the time we spent watching Twins games together while at Good Samaritan. We tried many treatments that didn’t work, but Dan never lost hope. I learned that hope is relative, and to Dan hope meant that his life had purpose while he was here.”

“Thank you, Dan, for the life we shared, for our children, for the highs and lows and for loving us all so unconditionally.”

Dan volunteered his time to Lions Gift of Sight and became an eye donor after his death. Dan’s mother, Joan, was also an LGS donor ten years earlier.​