Thursday, 19 October 2017

Lake Agazzi, The Rise and Demise of the World's Greated Lake - Bill Redekop.

Long time Winnipeg Free Press columnist, Bill Redekop, has just released another book. "It is a story not well known even though Manitoba was at its centre," writes the author. "Although the lake also stretched into Saskatchewan and Ontario, as well as the Dakotas and Minnesota. It was that large." 

I haven't seen the book yet, but I have it on my 'to read' list. I was wondering if this was something schools would be interested in and asked Bill. Here's his response:  "I would love to see it in schools. In fact, the book points out field trip-worthy sites to see the former beach ridges, or paleoshorelines, of glacial Lake Agassiz. It also talks about the large animals that walked the shores of Lake Agassiz, including woolly mammoths, mastodons and short-faced bear. 

I offered Bill to help promote his book: Should anybody wish to attend, McNally Robinson in Winnipeg is hosting a book launch. For more info about the book and the author, click here.


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

While Strolling Along in the Country

Today was a gorgeous fall day, perfect for an after school stroll. Fortunately, I had my phone with me to capture some of the gorgeous scenes. No words necessary. Enjoy!


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Would I be Willing to do a Live Radio Interview?

Perhaps, if it's for a good cause.

(My apologies about the links in this post, which for whatever reason are hardly noticeable. And I don't know how to fix that. Look closely for the words which that are just a touch different than the rest of the text.)

I've learned over the years that one never knows down which roads your musings will travel, and what will bounce back at you.

When I started working on the post 'There are None so Blind', I didn't have any lofty plans for it; just this blog post. However, while I was writing, I needed answers to certain questions. For example, why are the wait lists for corneal transplants so long. The best person to answer that would be my ophthalmologist, Dr. Rocha, who also happens to be the President of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS).

I found out there was no short answer for this question, so my article ended up being longer than I first anticipated. I was also fascinated with the information from Dr. Rocha, and read various articles on this topic online. Information I thought would be interesting for other people as well. When I finished writing, I asked Dr. Rocha if he'd have time to edit it, as I wanted my article to be accurate. He kindly obliged and asked if he can share it with the COS. I had no problem with that, because by that time I'd learned so much about tissue donations and the lack of awareness so felt that it's a message that needs to be widely spread.

Shortly after, Courtny Vaz, COS Coordinator, Communications and Public Affairs contacted me asking for permission to post my article on their website, See the Possibilities. She also wanted to know, with World Sight Day on October the 12th, if I'd be OK if she'd share my article with the media, should anybody be interested. I chuckled , thinking nothing will happen, but gave my consent. 

Then I got an email from Fontane Choi, who's with a PR agency working with the Canadian Ophthalmological Society. She wanted to know if I would be willing to do a live interview with Mike Ross and Joeita Gupta at Accessible Media Inc. in Toronto. Live? I've never done a live interview before. I guess my nothing-will-happen chuckle was short-lived. To say I wasn't nervous about a live interview would be an outright lie. I never like to be on the air, live or taped. Period. So my first instinct was to decline. However, I thought about this for a few minutes and decided I wanted to help spread the message about organ and tissue donation, which is the whole point to my article, and agreed to the interview. This is worth venturing out of my comfort zone for. Plus, it's going to be just a short ten minute interview. Hopefully I won't have to bumble my way through it. 

October 12, World Sight Day, I was going to be on air together with Dr. Phil Hooper, an ophthalmologist in London, Ontario. I liked that part, that way I won't have to talk so much. You can listen to it here: Live From Studio 5. Click on 'Receiving a Corneal Transplant'. If you don't have iTunes on your device, you'll have to first download it; the link to the free download is right there at the top of the Live from Studio 5 page. (UPDATE: Apparently the podcasts don't stay up very long, so you can't listen to it anymore. So sorry.)

That same morning Fontane Choi emailed and asked if I'd be willing to do another interview that day, this time with Global News. Oh. My. Word. What did I get myself into? Okay, so twice in one day I crawled out of my comfort zone, in the name of spreading an important message. But this time it was a taped interview - somewhat easier. You can read this one here. Both interviews went well, though.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Rocha, Courtny Vaz and Fontane Choi for sharing my article. It was a pleasure working with you! I appreciate all your help!

You too, can help spread this important message by sharing the above mentioned article, There are None so Blind via Email, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, or any other way you'd like. Some of these are made fairly easy at the bottom of this blog post. Who knows, perhaps because of your sharing it, some future organ or tissue recipient will be grateful. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

With Heartfelt Gratitude for Organ and Tissue Donors

On this day most of us pause and reflect on the many things we're thankful for. With each passing year it seems our lists grow longer. As part of my lengthy list I've included organ and tissue donors this year. And yet I feel I should have included that long ago, even though I wasn't a recipient before. But alas, it's one of those blessings we take for granted until we're directly touched by it. With my right eye no longer legally blind, the song, I Can See Clearly Now has taken on new meaning!

As I've noted in a previous post, not a day goes by without me thinking about my cornea donor. Today my thoughts turned toward my donor's family who will most likely be sitting 'round a festive table missing a family member they lost over the summer. A family member who chose to become a donor. I'm grateful to that family for respecting their loved one's wishes of having his/her organs and tissues donated. I'm hoping this final act of love brings them a measure of peace, knowing these precious gifts have impacted the recipients significantly.

What's on your gratitude list that you never thought to add before?

Saturday, 7 October 2017

All Saints - Michael Spurlock and Jeanette Windle

About the Book:

The surprising true story of how refugees from Burma brought life to a dying church.

Newly ordained, Michael Spurlock's first assignment is to pastor All Saints, a struggling church with twenty-five devoted members and a mortgage well beyond its means. The best option may be to close the church rather than watch it wither any further. But when All Saints hesitantly risks welcoming a community of Karen refugees from Burma--former farmers scrambling for a fresh start in America--Michael feels they may be called to an improbable new mission.

Michael must choose between closing the church and selling the property--or listening to a still, small voice challenging the people of All Saints to risk it all and provide much-needed hope to their new community. Together, they risk everything to plant seeds for a future that might just save them all.

Discover the true story that inspired the film while also diving deeper into the background of the Karen people, the church, and how a community of believers rally to reach out to those in need, yet receive far more than they dared imagine.

The Reverend Michael Spurlock served All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, for three years. He is currently on the clergy staff at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City. Michael, his wife, Aimee, and their two children live in New York City.

My Thoughts:

I was drawn to this book because we hear so much of refugees these days and also that it reminded me of a story in my own Hutterite history; when 275 Lutherans from Austria joined a small group of struggling and demoralized Hutterites and experienced a miraculous revival. The teachings in the Hutterite literature inspired the Carinthian Lutherans to adopt this faith, and together they managed to establish several communities.

I've never heard about the Karen refugees from Burma, so I was grateful that so much of the Karen refugee's history is woven into the story. It's not everyday that you pick up a book and it tells the true story of how a group pf refugees breathes new life into a church with a dwindling congregation and is on the brink of being closed. The miracle lies in the fact that the refugees were willing to work hard to build a new life and the pastor and his small congregation opened their hearts and church to these needy people. And all of them trusted God. Through struggles, thinking outside the box, changed hearts, answered prayers and leaning on each other, till their church not only remained open, but flourished. A poignant account of falling and finding the strength to get up again, clinging to hope and finally reaping the blessings.

For me this story spoke of how we should never judge, label or turn our backs on people in dire need, for example the refugees from Syria and other places. But rather, like this little church in Smyrna,Tennessee, "rally to reach out to those in need and receive far more than they dared imagine."


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Bountiful Harvests - Share the Wealth

Colourful trees, plus cooler and shorter days are a sure sign autumn is upon us. Where I live, this means harvesting potatoes - 400 acres of them. You can read about this interesting process here. 

We started harvesting a few weeks ago, but then we got a lot of rain, and our soil doesn't dry quickly, so for two weeks our potato equipment was parked. Fortunately, we've had warmer, sunny days and were able to continue this week. Potato harvesting days are long, many times from 9 AM to around 9 PM or later, with many people from the other work areas of the colony pitching in. Yesterday evening I went to help. Standing at a conveyor and picking out dirt and small potatoes, is a nice change from my day job at our school.

We sometimes get visitors to help out as well. Yesterday a local banker came to help for a few hours, which has become somewhat of a tradition for him, as he comes one day every year. It seems he too, sometimes enjoys a change of scenery from time to time.

A few years ago we had a visitor from Nigeria, a place known for its poverty. He stood in awe at our huge potato shed, which at that point was just about full and exclaimed, "I've never seen so much food in one place in my entire life!" He was probably thinking about all the people he could feed back home.

We're so used to harvesting huge quantities of potatoes, wheat, barley, oats... that we seldom stop to think what it would look like for less fortunate people, if they'd get a chance to see our granaries and sheds full of food, like our friend from Nigeria.

There's a lot of need locally as well.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving or bow our heads in gratitude over our daily abundant tables, may we remember, while we enjoy fine dining, others are dying for lack of food. When we bring home another load of grain or potatoes, may we remember, one less load of wheat in our bin may not make a difference on our own table, but would mean everything to a hungry family. God did not bless us with bountiful harvests to keep it all for ourselves – share the wealth! It's true, there’s enough food in the world for everybody, it’s just not evenly divided. May our attitude of gratitude reach beyond our own circle, radiating love and compassion for fellow human beings in need everywhere.

Monday, 25 September 2017

There Are None So Blind…

(Please share this post. It's a message I feel needs to be spread. Thanks! You'll see why, after you've read it.)

 “Your only option is a corneal transplant,” the ophthalmologist stated matter-of-factly.” Although I’d known for years it could one day come to that, I needed time for the reality of having a part of my eye replaced with donor tissue, to sink in.

 For years contact lenses provided me with the good vision I lost due to keratoconus, an eye condition in which the normally dome-shaped cornea progressively thins, causing a cone-like bulge to develop.  I’m not sure what caused this disorder, but it could have happened when my right eye met a wash line while playing tag as a child. It stung a bit, but not enough for me to complain, or see a doctor. I simply rubbed it a few minutes, stayed in the game and eventually forgot about it. Today, this is hard to fathom, but I obviously got used to distorted vision. 

National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health
Sometime later, when I noticed blurriness while reading, my parents took me to an optometrist. I came away with glasses, but they never helped my right eye very much. Unaware that other measures might be taken to improve the vision in that eye, I didn’t complain. Nevertheless, I wonder why my optometrist didn’t notice. Not until my late teens and seeing another optometrist, did I learn about the keratoconus. “Your right eye is legally blind. Glasses will never help you,” he informed me. “You’ll have to wear a rigid gas-permeable lens on that eye. It will help straighten the crooked cornea.” I clearly remember the first days with the contact lens: I saw each leaf on the trees separately instead of a blur of green! 

Years later the hard lens started irritating my eye, so my optometrist suggested lens piggybacking. Sitting under the hard lens, a soft lens served as protection for the cornea – a perfect solution for decades. However, a few years ago my right eye again started to feel irritated most of the time, to the point where I couldn’t wear contacts at all. The doctor prescribed lubricating eye drops and a variety of lenses, but they were only short term solutions. 

Then I was referred to a contact lens specialist in Winnipeg, who had me try different types of lenses as well, all of which continued to irritate my eye. By then I was tired of my sore eye and incompatible lenses. “I believe my eye is trying to tell me that my contact lens days are over.” I told the specialist. “What other options are there?” He referred me to Dr. Rocha, an ophthalmologist in Brandon, MB, thinking corneal collagen cross-linking would be the answer. This technique stiffens the cornea through a combination of exposure to ultraviolet light and eye drops containing vitamin B2. After examining my eyes, Dr. Rocha told me this procedure would be “a waste of your money and my time.” I was down to my last resort, a corneal transplant. 

In corneal transplants, the surgeon first decides on either partial or full thickness, based on the condition of the cornea. For my eye, it had to be a full thickness corneal transplant. Next the damaged corneal tissue is removed with an instrument called a trephine, similar to a cookie cutter. The cornea is then replaced with a precisely matched donor corneal graft stitched in place by hair-thin sutures.

Being on a waiting list for over a year, gave me ample time to ponder this option. Questions scrolled through my mind: How successful is this type of surgery? How long does it take for the eye to heal? How often are donor corneas rejected? Over clinic visits and phone calls, my fears were allayed and I was well prepared, when my call came. However, I had one lingering thought: in order for me to receive a donor cornea, someone would have to die. And that person would have chosen to donate his/her organs and tissue. 

A corneal transplant is not life-saving surgery like receiving a new heart, kidney or liver, and I can’t imagine how these people feel after surgery. However, it is life-changing; not a day goes by without me thinking about my donor, this person whose final act of love gave me better vision.
When my name was placed on the list, I never expected to have to wait fourteen months for a donor cornea. When I asked Dr. Rocha about the long wait, he explained that there are three reasons: education, systems and processes, and funding. 

 “More awareness on the part of donors but also health personnel and authorities is needed.” Dr. Rocha elaborated, “Signing the driver’s license as a donor is not enough. Corneal tissue can be harvested within six hours of death, processed within twelve hours and used up to fourteen days later. There is no reason why this should be difficult, other than the lack of knowledge that has prevailed.”  
It seems many people are not aware of the need for organs and tissue, or are indifferent. Granted, becoming an organ donor is not a topic that’s readily discussed, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen, especially since thousands of Canadians are waiting for corneal transplants, not to mention other organs. Had I never been on a wait list, I wouldn’t have thought to inquire about this, and would have remained in the dark about the ongoing issues surrounding corneal transplants.  Some of these issues are systems and processes, Dr. Rocha pointed out:

“There are laws for mandatory reporting of deaths depending on the province. It has been estimated that, for example, in Manitoba, ensuring a proper reporting and procurement process in a single hospital, could provide the corneal transplantation needs for the whole province.”
Waiting for a donor cornea has opened my eyes not only to the need for donors, but also the obstacles that hinder doctors from helping patients in need of corneal transplants. It also helped me see things in a new light and made me more receptive of ideas I might not have agreed with before. For example, if someone had told me a few years ago that in Spain, when a person dies it’s legal for doctors to harvest the organs and tissue, I would have been appalled. In Canada, even though someone opted to be a donor, that person’s family can veto this decision. Since the family is already experiencing the trauma of losing a loved one, doctors will not insist, meaning the organs and tissue are lost. Many would likely argue that the Canadian law is right, and Spain’s Presumed Consent Legislation is wrong. For me it comes down to one question: Why bury precious organs and tissue that would greatly benefit other human beings? 

The third reason for long wait lists, is a problem that other healthcare areas face as well; government funding:
“A few years ago,” Dr. Rocha informed me, “I was part of a group coordinated by the Canadian Blood Services, tasked with establishing a nation-wide organ and tissue donation. This initiative was prompted by Government. However, after several years of work including meetings and conference calls, when we were ready to proceed, both Federal and Provincial Governments denied further funding for the project.” 

Someone in need of a cornea could wait up to two years, because there are not enough donors in Manitoba. Since we lack accreditation across Canada and inter provincial co-operation, surgeons are unable to acquire donor corneas available in other provinces. An example occurred a few years ago when seventy healthy surplus corneas from Quebec were wasted because other provinces only recognize the Eye Bank of America accreditation, disregarding the fact that Quebec’s eye bank has Health Canada accreditation. (Moore, 2013) It’s appalling to think that people are going blind when government funding could provide a solution.

We have so much to be thankful for in our country, and some of those blessings were highlighted for me during my corneal transplant: our health care system, hospitals, doctors and their staff. Concerning transplants however, medicine, science, state-of-the-art micro- surgical equipment and skilled surgeons cannot provide anyone with a new cornea or any other organ, without donors and their supportive families.

Prior to my right eye giving me trouble, I never thought about organ and tissue donations long enough to put some action behind the thought. There’s nothing like facing a transplant to lend some perspective: I finally signed up to be a donor! I couldn’t put my name on a wait list, without first declaring my intent to be a donor myself.

Sign Up For Life is the Canadian website where becoming a donor is fairly easy. While it feels strange to click on organs and tissue you’d wish to donate, that only lasts a few minutes. The decision to be a donor can impact a person waiting for an organ or tissue for a lifetime. 

Because someone chose to be a donor, I was able to say farewell to keratoconus. Through this journey my eyes have been opened to the issues surrounding corneal transplants as well. The solutions to make our Canadian corneal transplantation system more efficient seem simple enough, if only governments and ophthalmologist shared the same passion and vision for helping people.

“The only thing worse than being blind, is having sight and no vision.” Helen Keller