WESTFIELD, NJ - It’s not unusual for brothers to have a lot in common. It isn’t even all that unusual for them to have the same sort of health problems. But three brothers who have the same degenerative eye disease and get cornea transplants from the same eye bank? Now that’s unusual.
Dennis, Jeffrey, and Tommy Moore were each diagnosed with keratoconus, a disease that degenerates the structure of the cornea, leading to blindness. Thanks to the Lions Eye Bank of New Jersey (www.lionseyebanknj.org), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the restoration of sight that recovers, evaluates and distributes human eye tissue for transplantation, the brothers have been able to regain their vision.
The Moores were unaware they had the disease, believing their vision was normal.
“One day my wife and I were driving on the NY Thruway, and I kept missing the exits,” said Dennis, who lives in Westfield. It was his first inkling that something was wrong, so he made an appointment with the ophthalmologist, who diagnosed keratoconus.
“I thought I’d just need glasses,” Dennis added. “But the doctor said there was really nothing he could do.”
When Dennis shared the news with Jeff and Tommy, they told him they had the same symptoms. Subsequent visits to the eye doctor revealed the same diagnosis.
Basically, keratoconus means the cornea is not concave as it normally is, but pointy. The doctor told Dennis he could have surgery or wear hard contacts that would essentially reshape his corneas. The contacts were a nightmare – they were uncomfortable, painful and Dennis said when he looks at pictures of himself from that time, he was always squinting.
Eventually, Dennis was faced with the knowledge that the contact lens prescription would need to be changed regularly – and paid the $300 cost per pair out of his pocket as his insurance company said they were merely contact lenses and not medically necessary.
Jeff was the first brother to get a cornea transplant, followed by Dennis, then Tommy. Dennis and Tommy’s surgeries were done by Dr. William Constad, who is also medical director of the Eye Bank.
“It’s ideally no more than 12 hours from the time of the donor’s death to recovery of the cornea,” said Margaret Chaplin, executive director of the Eye Bank. “Our staff is on call all the time.”
Once technicians do the cornea recovery, it’s taken to the eye bank with vials of blood to be tested, plus all the medical records to make sure all the criteria are met. Once the cornea is tested and cleared and a match is found, the transplant can take place.
“I know a lot of people think they can’t donate their corneas because they wear glasses or have some other sort of vision problem, but that’s a myth,” Chaplin said. “Even if you’re blind, your cornea could be perfectly viable for a transplant.”
Today, the Moore brothers reflect on how they viewed the world so differently prior to surgery.
“I never knew there were actual blades of grass,” Dennis said. “It used to just look like a sea of green to me.”
“I never knew my wife has so many freckles,” Tommy added.
The brothers also have one more thing in common — all three work for Little Jimmy’s Italian Ice (www.italianice.net), a family business started in 1950 by their grandfather. The company services various facilities at New Jersey shore points as well as at Liberty State Park.