Robby Holmes was just 19 years old when a BB pellet forever changed how he would view the world. Though his is a story with its fair share of pain and difficulty, it is one worth telling for it is also a story of perseverance, forgiveness, empowerment, and community. As is often the case with tales that bear repeating, degrees of chance and circumstance have conspired to create a story with deeper meaning and a more satisfying resolution involving both men, a new non-profit organization, the local community, and Lions VisionGift.
15 years ago Robby was a passenger in his friend's car, driving through his home town of Ida Grove, Idaho when a BB pellet, fired from the side of the road by a young man unknown to him, struck Robby's right eye. The damage done by the ricocheting projectile necessitated multiple surgeries in the intervening years, starting with his first cornea transplant and leading up to his recent successful operation this past summer for the glaucoma which developed 8 years ago.
Never one to take the "poor me" philosophy on the events of those days, Robby has harnessed a natural enthusiasm for life and poured it into his passions of music and community. His gregarious nature and kind spirit are immediately evident upon meeting him and have helped Robby become a respected member of his local community, through his community music promotion efforts. Given the impact of his work for local artists, it is of no surprise that his community responded to his developing plight surrounding paying for additional eye surgery.
Unfortunately, the development of Robby's glaucoma over the past eight years, in addition to causing chronic pain, was threatening to irreparably damage his vision. In addition, the integrity of his first cornea transplant had been compromised by these developments and, pending the outcome of his recent glaucoma surgery, Robby would need a second cornea transplant. Without medical insurance, these were operations which Robby would not be able to afford.
In just a few short weeks in the summer of '11 during several fundraising concerts promoted by Robby's community awareness organization, his friends, and their friends, raised over eight thousand dollars of the necessary twelve thousand needed for his upcoming procedures. Upon learning of this dedicated community reaction to the plight of one of its own, Lions VisionGift stepped in to donate the cornea for Robby's operation this November.
We promised you a story of reconciliation and inspiration, and if the public outpouring of community support doesn't warm your heart, hopefully this will. On a chance visit to his hometown, Robby had a chance encounter with the grandmother of the man who shot him. In typical Robby fashion, he asked this woman to pass along the message to her kin that he harbored no ill will or animosity toward the young man and wished him only better times ahead. It wasn't one day later that the two men shared a telephone conversation in which his attacker told Robby of the weight lifted from his shoulders by those words. In times subsequent, that individual has started his own non-profit organization that serves under-privileged children.
Lions VisionGift is proud to be even a small part of the remarkable story that Robby Holmes continues to write, and we look forward to seeing the new chapters he creates once he recives his second 'new' cornea.
Brother James Bartos of Mt. Angel Abbey knows a thing or two about keeping faith. When you make your first vows at the age of 18, and celebrate more than 50 years of service to the community and church, you build up a catalogue of experiences that inform your world view. But even a man of Brother James’ convictions can wrestle with the implications of failing vision and he remembers after being diagnosed with Fuch’s Dystrophy; thinking to himself – in his typically restrained manner – “You’re going to go blind.”
It’s hard for Brother James to pinpoint when his vision began failing him; the progression was so gradual that he just made concessions without even realizing it. The font on his Psalm handouts kept getting larger and larger –12 point font grew to 14, to 16. He took to wearing tinted glasses. When he told people about his difficulty driving at night in the rain, they just said, “Yeah, it’s like that for me too,” so James thought this was all just a part of normal aging.
Among his many other roles at the Abbey, including ministry with the church’s elderly clergy, Brother James is the community’s locksmith as well. With more than six hundred lock sets between the monastery, the library, the school, and resident areas – a great majority of them intricate old-fashioned mechanisms – Brother James had his hands full. He remembers noticing how much shinier, and fuzzier the lock components seemed to be; he had slowly developed a great deal of difficulty pinning locks – something he’d done many, many times over the years.
Brother James comes from a family of seven siblings, and while discussing his eyesight with his sister, she asked him, “Well, maybe you have what I have?” She was referring to Fuch’s Dystrophy, which is a hereditary condition. This conversation prompted Brother James to seek out a new Ophthalmologist – Lions VisionGift’s Medical Director, Dr. John Wilkins. Cornea transplants had been discussed before, but always as a solution for down the line, and Brother James still remembers Dr. Wilkin’s telling him very matter-of-factly that, “It’s time.”
A man of many talents, Brother James is also a Registered Nurse. From a clinical perspective, he knew there was very little to worry about with the transplant procedure. He understood the projected healing timeframes and what he needed to do to help that healing go as smoothly as possible. One aspect of recovery that Brother James hadn’t anticipated was the realization of where his gift had come from. “I hadn’t thought about it much before, but I realized that someone had to die for me to receive this gift. I pray for them and their family every day, for everyone involved in the whole process. It’s just, a really significant thanks giving,” says Brother James.
Now, five months out from the other cornea being transplanted, Brother James notices more beautiful colors around the Abbey, and more sharpness and clarity in his locks. And though there have been some bumps in the road during his transplant process, Brother James is sure he, “wouldn’t trade it for the world.”