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

Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Neurosciences
University of Minnesota

Fall-Winter 2023

© Copyright 2023 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 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 throughout the world. 

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 owned by the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is proud to be part of the University of Minnesota Medical School. 

Table of Contents

Executive Director Message

Community Partner

Spotlight on Coordination

Lions Save Lives

Lions International Convention


Donor Spotlight: Wade

Executive Director, Sean Poppoff, Message: New Opportunities

I am excited to share the news that Lions Gift of Sight (LGS) created a new position this year: Director of Business Development. On July 1, Brian Philippy, former Director of Transplant & Research at the Lions Medical Eye Bank & Research Center of Eastern Virginia, stepped into the role.

This position represents a significant opportunity as we move forward in a new climate of our profession, and we are excited to be working closely with the Lions Medical Eye Bank to increase efficiencies and expand the presence and impact of both organizations and, by extension, the profession that we all serve.  

The Director of Business Development is a new position at LGS, so it will grow and take shape as we do. Some roles we envision: implementing and managing business planning, performance improvement, and strategic initiatives; anticipating changes in the eye banking climate and positioning LGS for business success and regulatory compliance; establishing international distribution channels; advising the Executive Director on trends, opportunities, and threats; facilitating key collaboration with all units of LGS to improve operational efficiency; and representing LGS in strategic initiatives with other eye banks, researchers, and current and potential industry partners.

The possibilities are endless in a profession that exhibits constant change. Having someone of Brian's caliber – more than 20 years of eye banking experience, a Certified Eye Bank Technician since 2003, the 2021 Leonard Heise Award recipient (the highest EBAA recognition for non-physicians), known and respected in the national and international eye bank community – gives us a massive state-of-the-art playground to explore.

On a side note, Brian actually started his eye banking career as a student worker at Lions Gift of Sight! We are fortunate to welcome him back to the fold.

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Introducing a Not-so-New Partner: University Enterprise Laboratories

In the 63-year history of Lions Gift of Sight, we’ve occupied a number of leased office spaces on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota. In the early 2000's, like many organizations experiencing growth, it became clear that the eye bank required more laboratory space, additional equipment, and more office room to expand our transplantation, research, and education programs. So in 2007, Lions Gift of Sight moved from its campus location in the Phillips-Wangensteen Building to University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL) located near the intersection of University and Raymond avenues in Saint Paul, MN. Sixteen years later, UEL continues to be our home. 

Why UEL? The obvious answer is that the University of Minnesota is a founding sponsor of UEL. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that UEL is a facility that provides space and supportive programming for early-stage life science, biotech, agriculture, healthcare, materials science, and analytics companies. And unlike traditional leased offices, UEL offers both lab and office space to organizations like LGS. It has a loading dock for large shipments, secure access to the building, tracked access to our office suite, 24-hour controlled access for approved couriers, and the use of an emergency generator for critical equipment. In addition to the physical elements of the building, UEL staff is responsive to our needs for improvements, which enhance the eye bank's work and processes. Staff love the building atrium, the natural light in our office suite, and the ample and convenient parking.

Benefits don’t end there. Lions Gift of Sight also has access to UEL meeting and conference rooms that allow us to deepen key relationships by hosting local and international Lions clubs events, board of directors meetings, national eye bank workshops, recovery technician training sessions, Donate Life Month flag raising events, and more.

File this next tidbit under “Minnesota is big, but not that big.” Turns out that UEL’s Director of Operations, Jay Beyer-Kropuenske, has a very close connection to our work to educate and promote eye, organ, and tissue donation. Jay experienced first-hand the Gift of Life when he received a life-saving kidney and liver transplant in 2013. We’re grateful to Jay for his role at UEL and for his willingness to share his moving transplant story with many audiences over the years. UEL is fortunate to have Jay at the helm, supporting Lions Gift of Sight and the other 60 tenants in their work.

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Team Spotlight: Donor Coordinators 
Bringing it Together

Lions Gift of Sight is fortunate to have a group of incredibly-talented individuals working around the clock to facilitate eye donation and set the stage for other LGS teams. These are the donor coordinators. What does a typical work day look like for this team? Here is a snapshot shared by their leader, Donor Eligibility Manager, Jolie Schmidt.

Coordinators receive from 50 to 70 referral calls each day, and our coordinators speak with nurses, funeral directors, medical examiners, and hospice providers to determine if a person is eligible for donation and, if so, to make donation possible.

The process begins by completing a thorough medical screening with healthcare providers or electronic medical records by reviewing current medical conditions and a potential donor’s comprehensive medical history. This is done very soon after a person passes away, typically within an hour or so.

The next step is to speak with family members. We offer our condolences, inform them of their loved one’s opportunity to become an eye donor, specify if the gift can be used for transplant or research, and provide the needed information to allow an informed decision. Often, the deceased has already made the donation decision by registering to be a donor on their driver's license or in their health care directive, and we help donor families make their loved one’s wishes a reality. In order to move forward with the donation, we complete an authorization for donation with the next of kin, and a medical and social questionnaire with someone who knows the donor well.

Once the required paperwork has been completed we dispatch a Lions Gift of Sight technician to the donation site to recover the eye tissue. We keep in contact with the medical facility and funeral home to let them know how long the recovery will take and when it will be completed. If the donation is outside the greater metro area, we arrange transportation back to our lab in Saint Paul.

Some donor coordinators are also Medical Director Designees. They are responsible for reviewing the complete donor record to ensure tissue safety before it is officially released for transplant or research use. They review hundreds of pages of medical records, family interviews, blood tests, and lab reports to make this determination. The process requires laser focus to be sure that LGS is providing safe and high-quality tissue to surgeons and recipients.

Coordinating eye donation takes a special talent. These individuals move from having fast-paced conversations about detailed medical information to displaying empathy and compassion to grieving family members. They have a wealth of knowledge to successfully read and interpret medical charts. Their commitment and dedication demonstrate the Lions Gift of Sight mission 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Article Callout

Lions Gift of Sight now has 11 donor coordinators working with Jolie. This intrepid crew recently pivoted to performing their jobs remotely, giving LGS the ability to recruit employees from a more diverse pool of applicants. The added flexibility also contributes to staff retention. 

Article Graphic

An included graph shows how busy our coordination team is on a daily basis and demonstrates the number of phone calls that come in to the call center, referring potential donors. Each referral must be assessed to determine whether donation criteria is met before a coordinator contacts family members to discuss donation.

While more persons qualify for eye donation than either organ or tissue, many are still deferred due to contraindications. Post-Covid, the number of referrals that convert to LGS donors is around 11%.

Graph Data: Number of referral calls per year. 2018 = 14,560, 2019 = 13,242, 2020 = 16,814, 2021 = 16,581, 2022 = 17,297.

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Lions Save Lives
Show your pride. Register to be a donor.

Lions Gift of Sight and Donate Life Midwest are partnering to increase the number of registered eye, organ, and tissue donors. Lions club members have a unique opportunity to show their strong values and lead the way in making an impact in the lives of others by encouraging their communities to register through the Lions Save Lives campaign.

Did you know? 

Right now, more than 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for a life-saving transplant. One organ, eye and tissue donor can save and heal more than 75 lives. It’s a simple decision with a big impact! While men are more likely to need a transplant, they’re about 10%less likely to register as a donor. 

Where there's a need, there's a Lion

More than 2,300 people in Minnesota are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. You can make a tremendous impact on the lives of others by registering as eye, organ, and tissue donors through the Lions Save Lives campaign. If you haven't registered, take the leap and register today!

You can save lives.

There’s no age limit to register. Have a past or current health issue? That won’t necessarily rule you out. All major religions support donation. Your life comes first. The hospital’s priority will always be you.

Build your legacy as an organ, eye, and tissue donor and help heal and save lives! For more information about donation, visit To register, visit

Funding provided through the generosity of Minnesotans supporting the You & $2 program at their local DMV.

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Leveraging LCI-Con Boston

The fundamental work of an eye bank is to restore sight. That work has many components, from providing corneal tissue for transplants to supporting ophthalmology research to helping to educate medical professionals. All of these valuable functions align nicely with Lions International. Evidence of this is the Lions Eye Bank Working Group. 

The Lions Eye Bank Working Group is a collection of Lions eye banks from all over the world, collaborating with Lions International to support each other and raise awareness of the need for strong, independent eye banks. Sean Poppoff (LGS Executive Director) and Brian Philippy (LGS Business Development Director) sit on this working group, and individuals from the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation and the University of Minnesota's Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Neurosciences have also contributed. 

In July, some Work Group members, including Sean and LGS Technical Operations Director, Patrick Becker, attended the Lions International Convention in Boston, Mass. The two helped staff the Service Activities Booth in the Exhibition Hall, engaging Lions from many countries  and providing education on Lions Eye Banks and organ, eye, and tissue donation. 

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LGS Staffers Attend EBAA Annual Meeting

The Eye Bank Association of America held its annual meeting on June 21 – 24 in Dallas, Texas. Many staff members took part in the educational sessions and workshops, scientific abstracts, governance meetings, and networking opportunities. Attending from LGS were Jodi Altenhofen, Lynn Balfour, Patrick Becker, Peter Bedard, Dr. Joshua Hou, Chris LaGassie, Sean Poppoff, Jolie Schmidt, Patty Stockdale, and Dr. Ching Yuan.

Meeting Highlights

Patrick presented at the Technical Skills Workshop about a living eye donor. Eye donations from living persons are rare, and this was only the second that LGS has coordinated in more than 60 years of operations. Patrick was one of five presentations at this invited session.

Chris presented the Scientific Abstract "Effect of Paired Radial Incision Placement Relative to DMEK Scroll Axis on Triple Scroll Formation in Young Donor Tissue."

Dr. Hou presented a Case Study on “A Recipient with CJD” at the Medical Directors Symposium. As EBAA Scientific Program Chair, he also moderated the Scientific Symposium.

Lions Gift of Sight, VisionGift, and Advancing Sight Network eye banks presented a session on “Research: Creating a POSITIVE IMPACT on the World and Your Bottom Line.” Dr. Yuan, LGS Research and Development Director, was one of the keynote speakers, giving the talk “Help your clients (and you) have a phenomenal research program.” Ching was also a faculty member for the session “Dissecting Ocular Tissue for Research: Live Demo and Wet Lab.” Lions Gift of Sight partnered with two other eye banks on this training and provided the needed tissue.

Chris, Stephanie Simpson, and Katie Miller were all celebrated at the meeting for achieving Certified Eye Bank Technician (CEBT) status. Minhua Wu was recognized for receiving the Jachin Misko Memorial Scholarship.

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Donor Spotlight: Wade

We would like to introduce you to Wade Hedemark, a husband, father, grandfather, and brother. He was married to Ana for 35 years and, because of his service in the United States Army, each of their four children was born in a different state—Hawaii, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Minnesota. But it is in Minnesota where they stayed and raised their family.  

Wade was known for his humor, generous spirit, and love for all things hunting and outdoors. He shared his enthusiasm with his family and enjoyed quiet fishing dates with Ana and playing softball with his friends. Wade worked as a letter carrier for the Powderhorn Post Office in Minneapolis for 29 years. He was a community fixture, well known and loved. 

Wade didn't speak a lot about his years in the Army, but he was proud to have served. In 1990, he was deployed to the Persian Gulf War where he spent seven months on the front line. Technology was different then, and communications involved letters and care packages. The Congregation B'nai Emet preschool program adopted Wade as their pen pal and sent him letters, cards, and cassette tapes with songs of hope and love. Wade was so touched that he visited the children on his return to thank them for their kindness and support. 

Wade was a donor to Lions Gift of Sight, and when he died, his corneas helped two people in need of sight-saving corneal transplants. We thank Wade for his service in life and service after death.  

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