Gifts come in many different packages

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By Sandy Bond
Forty-four years ago, at the age of eight, Dorrine Heidrich’s life was changed forever with the loss of sight in her left eye. With the advances in medicine in the interim, the skill of her surgeons, the prayers and faith of family and friends, and the Lions Eye Bank, a cornea transplant is helping to restore the sight she lost many years before.“Everyone has a story to tell,” Dorrine said, “some sad, some happy and some inspirational. Then there are the stories that demonstrate all of those emotions and more. I’m sure you can relate some part of your life to the winding road I’ve traveled.”

Dorrine was the third of four daughters born to Clarence and Alvina Dearborn of Isabel.

While visiting her grandparents, a lawnmower operated by an older cousin accidently kicked up a small pebble. Like a bullet the pebble ricocheted, hitting Dorrine in her left eye.

“I wasn’t sure what happened at first,” she said. “But it was the most pain I had ever felt in my life; I stopped instantly and fell to my knees.”

Her grandfather scooped her up in his arms and the next thing Dorrine remembered was driving to the hospital in Eagle Butte, 45 miles away. After she was stable enough to be transported, Dorrine and her parents traveled to Rapid City.

Eye specialist Dr. Sterling Palmerton did emergency surgery and saved her eye. Unfortunately, she said, the damage was too extensive and the rock had distorted the pupil, causing traumatic cataracts.

She felt grateful that her physician had saved her eye and to the Shriners for all their help, but faced the reality that, except for being able to see dim lights, she had lost all vision in her eye. For months, she recalled, she was confined to her bed to prevent any further damage to the eye. Her family could only visit infrequently because of the great distance.

“I remember, day after day, using my one good eye to look out the hospital window, up the hill to Dinosaur Park seeing children playing with their family and friends,” she said. “I felt like I was being punished and began to despise Dinosaur Park.”

After six months of hospitalization, Dorrine was finally released. Because she had a different depth perception and because she had been bedridden and her muscles had weakened, she had to relearn how to walk.

By spring Dorrine was allowed to go outside and play with other kids.

“That’s when I discovered how cruel kids could be,” she said. “I was teased, mocked and laughed at relentlessly because I had a patch on my eye.”

Although it hurt her, it also made her a stronger person, she said. Even though she could not see things from both eyes, she had a unique way of looking at things.

“I made up my mind that it would not hinder me,” she said. “I discovered most people never noticed that my pupil had been shattered.”

Dorrine eventually married and divorced, but she has four children and five grandchildren; she loves being a grandma. Still, she often thought about how wonderful it would be to have sight in both eyes.

Last September her eye began to itch, the start of an infection. An eye specialist gave her medicine to apply to her eye and a contact lens to wear. Still, the infection did not subside.

“A couple of months later, I wiped my eye and out came a small, sharp fragment,” she said. “It was the rock that had assaulted my eye.”

The infection became worse and Dorrine went to another eye specialist. What he said nearly devastated her. Her three options were shooting alcohol behind the eye to deaden it which would cause the eye to droop; take the eye out and replace it with a glass eye; or remove the eye and stitch the eyelid shut. Her family urged her to get a second opinion. With the help of her family physician she found her way to Dr. Paul Wright and Dr. Geoffrey Slingsby in Rapid City. Ultimately, they gave her hope that a cornea transplant might help her regain her sight. However, they cautioned her it might be an arduous two years. Surgery was performed in October of last year and the donated cornea was stitched in place. The next day a lens was implanted.

“My eyes were watery, and I couldn’t see anything straight ahead; but they held up three fingers, and I counted them,” she said. “Then came everyone else’s happy tears.”

There have been some complications and minor setbacks. In addition, her regimen will include regular physician’s appointments to check on her progress.

“My heart goes out to the donor and their family’s loss,” she said. “They say the eyes are the window to a person’s soul; if that is the case, I can’t see inside myself but I feel in my heart, my donor was a great and compassionate person. I’m very honored at having this gift and this chance.”

“Only God knows what the future holds for me,” she said. “Nevertheless, I am glad to have such wonderful and inspirational people in my life; that is, in itself, a miracle.”

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