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

Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Neurosciences
University of Minnesota

Spring-Summer 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 1-866-887-4448

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, as well as Galveston, Texas, 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

Virtual Tour

Minnesota Lion Makes Good

Lions Clubs International Foundation

Out and About: Community Events

Eye Bank Association of America

Physician Leadership Program

Eye Bank Association of America Inspection

LGS Research & Development Team


Donor Spotlight

Recipient Spotlight

Our Capacity to Give is Boundless

Wishing all a very prosperous and peaceful spring. The topic I wish to touch on in this issue is a deeply personal one and relates to an April national observance: National Donate Life Month.

On April 1, Lions Gift of Sight launched Donate Life Month by inviting friends and partners to a Donate Life flag raising ceremony at University Enterprise Laboratories, the eye bank’s home since 2007. I was one of the speakers for the accompanying program, and, as executive director, I could have spoken about the life-changing work of Lions Gift of Sight, a fitting subject for the month. But I chose instead to share a more personal story that has profoundly influenced my life in the last year: my kidney donation.

In late 2021, I became  a non-paired living kidney donor, also termed “non-directed living donor.” Such donors donate an organ (usually a kidney) without naming an intended recipient. There is no familial or friend tie prompting the donation and no expectation of reciprocity.

I hadn’t previously shared this information with many, so telling my story at a public event and writing about it in our newsletter is a little difficult. But my story will, perhaps inspire others, which is why I am pushing through the discomfort.

Non-directed living organ donors have become increasingly important to meeting the shortage of available organs from deceased donors. As someone with a very strong work ethic and an equally strong faith, as someone who works in the altruistic field of eye donation, I wanted to be part of the chain of life that is set off by non-paired living donors. My left kidney went to a recipient in Chicago and touched lives in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, including the life of a pediatric patient.

The potential we all have to help fellow travelers on this earth is boundless. In the end, the decision to become a living kidney donor was a not a difficult one for me to make, and I hope my story encourages others to consider all the possibilities. We can change one person’s life. We can change the world.

Lions Gift of Sight Open for Virtual Viewing

More than two years ago, when the pandemic changed our lives, Lions Gift of Sight transitioned many staff to a work-from-home model. The remaining staff members who physically reported to work receded behind masks and social distancing. And, sadly, we closed our doors to visitors: Lions members, volunteers, corneal recipients, donor family members. As a result of these necessary actions, we lost some of the connection with our community, our partners, and our champions.

To rekindle the romance (so to speak), we have developed a virtual tour of Lions Gift of Sight, recounting the work we do in the field of sight restoration. Whether our friends are unable to visit us because of COVID, distance, or time constraints, they can now take a virtual tour entirely at their convenience.

This tour is by no means representative of everything we do here at Lions Gift of Sight. (Such a tour would be a 12-part miniseries!) However, you will be introduced to some key teams at the eye bank: donor coordination; eye tissue recovery; tissue evaluation and processing; tissue distribution; and research. You will also learn a bit more about our 60+ year partners, Minnesota Lions club members. We enjoyed putting the video together, and we hope you enjoy watching it.

Access the Lions Gift of Sight Virtual Tour from our website at the link

Lions Clubs International: Minnesota Lions Makes Good

“My philosophy has always been that whatever you do  do it BIG. ”

— Lion Brian Sheehan, International First Vice President

In July, Minnesota will be recognized for an achievement last realized 100 years ago. One of our very own Lions club members will assume the mantle of Lions Clubs International President: Lion Brian Sheehan.

Those who are unfamiliar with Lions might not appreciate the magnitude of this accomplishment. International presidents hail from all over the globe, and recent leaders were from India, Iceland, Japan, Australia, and the Republic of Korea. The only previous Minnesotan representing the service organization in this capacity was Ewan W. Cameron from Minneapolis back in 1921. And at that time, the organization was “international” only by virtue of a handful of Canadian clubs, and there were roughly but 7,000 members.

Not so today! 1.4 million members. 48,000 clubs. 200 countries or geographic areas. Five global causes. Lion Brian from Bird Island, Minnesota, (population around 1,000) is shouldering a tremendous amount of responsibility. Fortunately, no one is more capable than this 30-year Lions member.

Brian is tremendously respected in his community. He is the founder and CEO of Rural Computer Consultants, a software development company. He is active in numerous professional and community organizations. He has served as president of Bird Island Civic and Commerce, as director of the Learning Funhouse, and as a member of various school committees. He has received the 2011 U.S. SBA Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year Award.

Brian has been recognized many times over by the Lions organization. He is a Progressive Melvin Jones Fellow and Second Century Ambassador and has been named Club Lion of the Year. He has received the Al Jensen Leadership Award, the Founders Membership Growth Award, numerous International President’s Certificates of Appreciation, and the International President’s Leadership Award. Brian has also been given the Ambassador of Good Will Award, the highest honor the association bestows. This well-decorated and feted individual, however, still humbly introduces himself as “Lion Brian” and never forgets his small town roots and values.

We are in good hands and are excited to welcome Brian as our International President on July 1.

Lions Clubs International Foundation

The fundraising arm of Lions International is its foundation. Established in 1968, Lions Clubs International Foundation empowers Lions clubs, volunteers, and partners to improve health and well-being, strengthen communities, and support those in need through humanitarian aid.

Donations can support the focus areas of LCI: Vision, Hunger, Diabetes, Youth, Environment, and Childhood Cancer. Donations can also go to Disaster Relief. And you can feel good knowing that 100% of financial gifts is allocated to grants and programs, since all administrative and fundraising expenses are covered by investment income!

More information can be found at:

Out and About

As a community eye bank, Lions Gift of Sight has an obligation to participate in community stakeholder events. Fortunately, it is something we love to do! Here is a sampling of what LGS staff have been up to.

Donate Life Month Activities

On March 31, Lynn Balfour, Patrick Becker, Patty Stockdale, and Mary Yapp joined Hennepin Healthcare staff, donor families, and donation partners for a Donate Life Flag raising.

On April 8, Recovery Technician Stephen Hoskins represented Lions Gift of Sight at a Donate Life banner raising ceremony at UTMB Health (University of Texas Medical Branch) in Galveston, Texas.

On April 13, Patty Stockdale, was part of a story, “One Last Gift,” that aired on KBJR6 (Superior). The story centered on the Donate Life flag raising event at St. Luke’s Hospital, Duluth, and can be viewed at https://z.umn.

On April 18, Partner and Community Relations Manager Patty Stockdale and Duluth Recovery Technicians Mary Swelstad and Steven Veit attended the Donate Life flag raising at Essentia Health - St. Mary’s Duluth.

On April 20, Partner Relations Liaisons Lynn Balfour and Mary Yapp attended a Donate Life outreach event at Hennepin Health.

On April 22, Mary Swelstad attended a flag raising event at Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing.

LGS provided Donate Life cookies for an Olmsted Medical Center initiative to increase awareness about donation. The initiative was led  by OMC’s Donation, Advance Care Planning, Palliative Care and Patient Rights Committee (Team DAPP).

Lions Activities

On January 29, Technical Operations Director Patrick Becker educated around 200 Lions about the work of Lions Gift of Sight at the District 5M-4 convention in Willmar, Minnesota.

On March 2, seventeen Lions—future district leaders and spouses—visited the eye bank for orientation and a tour. It was noted by more than one Lion present that Lions Gift of Sight employees are passionate about what they do for a living!

On May 5, Patrick Becker, Executive Director Sean Poppoff, Patty Stockdale, Steven Veit, and Eye Bank Scientist Minhua Wu worked the somewhat-famous Duluth Lions Pancake Breakfast. Lions and community members were both excited to be back after a 2-year pause of the annual event.

Eye Bank Association of America

The Eye Bank Association of America is the keeper of statistics that relate to eye banking activity, including how eye tissue (cornea, whole globe, sclera) is used. These statistics allow us to see trends—beneficial and harmful—in eye banking. These statistics show us our history and give us a road map for our future. As custodian of this wealth of information, the EBAA is an invaluable resource to the field of ophthalmology.

We are excited to report that the 2021 stats are out! 57 eye banks submitted data to the EBAA, and here are some highlights:

64,048 people donated their eyes to EBAA eye banks.

62% of those donors were “designated donors,” that is, had committed to donation before their deaths.

79,641 corneas were provided for transplant.

14,222 eyes or corneas were devoted to research.

7,425 eyes or corneas contributed to education and training.

49,100 corneal transplants were performed in the U.S.

22,928 transplants occurred outside the U.S., thanks to tissue provided by U.S. eye banks.

What was Lions Gift of Sight’s role in this busy global panoply?
In 2021:

1,967 people donated their eyes or corneas to Lions Gift of Sight.

1,282 corneas were placed with U.S. surgeons for transplant.

232 corneas were placed internationally.

1,293 eyes or corneas were given to research.

709 eye tissues benefited education and training.

Across the board, 2021 numbers were higher than in 2020, the year that COVID rocked our world and upended our norms, procedures, expectations, lives. A quick takeaway is that eye banks, Lions Gift of Sight included, are very busy places. Saving sight, restoring vision, advancing the field of ophthalmology—these are callings that command 24 / 7 / 365 dedication. We are up to the challenge!


Physician Leadership Program

Lions Gift of Sight Associate Medical Director Yusra Siddiqui, M.D., from Galveston, Texas, is participating in the Eye Bank Association of America’s Physician Leadership Program. The program that brings together a class of 15-20 corneal surgeons, identified as emerging leaders, who are interested in learning more about eye banking and becoming involved with the EBAA. As part of her training, Dr. Siddiqui visited Lions Gift of Sight January 8-10 to meet with and learn from many eye bank staff about: eye tissue recovery, processing, and distribution; ophthalmology research; partnering with hospitals to facilitate donation; donor family aftercare; and more.

Education is an important component of Lions Gift of Sight’s mission, and we are honored to sponsor Dr. Siddiqui in the EBAA Physician Leadership Program.

Eye Bank Association of America Inspection

Lions Gift of Sight underwent its Eye Bank Association of America inspection in April. All EBAA eye banks are inspected at minimum every three years, and inspections, while routine, are rigorous. In the past, Lions Gift of Sight has always been awarded the highest accreditation level, three years, and we hope to continue this tradition.

Inspectors commented on the positive attitudes shown by all the LGS staff members they encountered in their 2-day visit. They also were complimentary about the expertise of the technical staff and gave a shout out to the talents of LGS Medical Director, Dr. Joshua Hou.

Inspection results will be released at the June EBAA meeting.

Employee Spotlight: Research & Development Team

The Eye Bank Resolution that created the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank (now Lions Gift of Sight) explicitly stated that we were founded for both “cornea transplants” and “vital research on eyes,” and our operation has been steeped in research for more than 60 years. Unlike many other U.S. eye banks, we actively recover research eye tissue, and more than one-half of the donations received by Lions Gift of Sight are distributed for research and medical education.

People, perhaps, tire of hearing us rave about our research and development efforts, but it is so hard not to be excited about all that is being accomplished at Lions Gift of Sight. Led by Ching Yuan, Ph.D., with the active and invaluable participation of our medical director, Joshua Hou, M.D., our intrepid research team has a three pronged mission: to provide eye tissue to researchers, to customize eye tissue for researchers, and to conduct in-house research that advances the field of ophthalmology. The mission is carried out through the talents of Research Scientist Sung Lee and Research Fellow Peter Bedard, as well as doctors Hou and Yuan.

The team is part of many investigative efforts and scientific studies here in the United States and in other countries. We are proud to have both a local and a global impact,.

Limbal Stem Cells Descemet’s Membrane Transplant Technology, Nanothin DSAEK Graft Processing, Fluorescence-Based Biochemical Endothelium Evaluation, COVID-19 Research, Graft Storage and Delivery Optimization, Relaxing Hinges DMEK Graft Processing—each one of these investigations is a major research commitment, and all are being tackled by the Lions Research and Development Team, among the best in the world.

ARVO: Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology

Lions Gift of Sight Research Team members Ching Yuan and Sung Lee, as well as Executive Director Sean Poppoff, attended the annual meeting of ARVO (Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology) in May. ARVO membership sits at nearly 11,000 people from more than 75 countries, and the annual meeting is a must-attend for anyone involved in ophthalmology research.

ARVO is a chance to network with fellow researchers, garner new research clients, and absorb the information provided by keynote speakers, paper sessions, poster sessions, workshops, and courses. Lions Gift of Sight also staffed a booth in the exhibit hall, promoting the many research services our eye bank offers.

ARVO’s mission is to serve as a global catalyst for innovation, workforce development and collaboration in the field of vision research. We are proud to be a member.

Donor Spotlight: Mary Zieba

A Life of Service

Mary Zieba was a remarkable woman who lived to help others. Her early career was spent serving adults with disabilities at Trevilla and then working at the Catholic Youth Center. After earning her nursing degree (while caring for four young children!), she began nursing on the Acute Med Surg floor at North Memorial, a place she felt guided her to her true passion—hospice care. She then spent 34 years in different hospice roles, caring for employees, patients, and families with the highest level of grace and compassion. In her work, Mary was a huge advocate for eye donation and for improving and streamlining the process for referring hospice donors.

Mary’s service, however, did not stop at the conclusion of the work day. She always felt a pull to do more. Volunteering at Sharing and Caring Hands to provide warm meals, clothing, and conversation to individuals experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis. Hosting children from Northern Ireland. And adopting two children from Russia, giving them the chance to flourish and grow. Mary was a firm believer in hope and compassion, and in death, as in life, she was a giver. When she lost her fight with cancer, Mary became an eye donor and helped restore sight to two corneal transplant recipients.

For all she did in support of donation and her community, Lions Gift of Sight was honored to select Mary Zieba as an Eye Donation Champion in 2021.

Recipient Spotlight: Monica

Monica’s transplant journey started in 2012 with shingles (Zoster Opthalmicus) in her left eye. About a half million people in the United States contract shingles every year, and ophthalmic zoster is one of the more common manifestations. Monica endured infection after infection in her eye, finally experiencing a full corneal melt seven months later. She needed a corneal transplant to save her eye. A second transplant, after the first healed, then restored Monica’s sight. Her third transplant seven years later replaced the transplanted cornea whose cell count had decreased to a level that no longer afforded adequate vision.

Each of Monica’s corneal transplants was life changing for her. Transplants ensured that she could continue her work in her school district’s IT department (work that requires good vision). They made it safe for her to bike and easy for her to travel, pastimes she loves but couldn’t do or do as well when she struggled to see clearly.

“I am forever grateful to my donors, their families, and the many medical professionals without whom I would not have the vision I have today. Thank you for this amazing gift!”