Aguirre flew from Virginia to Miami to be checked out by Amescua, who rushed back from Honduras, where he had been doing charity cataract surgeries for the poor. Aguirre said he couldn’t find an eye surgeon in Virginia who was ready to receive the cornea from Miami and proceed with the operation in time.
Amescua, who said he performs about 50 of the approximately 46,000 U.S. corneal transplants each year, operated on Aguirre on Oct. 1. He cut a hole about 8 millimeters in diameter from Aguirre’s left eye, then grafted the eye with a matching piece of Aguirre Santos’ cornea. Aguirre went home to Virginia the next day, after a follow-up exam.
“In about nine months to a year, he should be seeing better than he has his whole life,” Amescua said.
Aguirre returned to Miami this week for a checkup with Amescua and for his mother’s funeral on Sunday.
Other than her desire to give her son one of her corneas, Aguirre Santos’ decision to be an organ donor was unknown to her family. Aguirre, who also is a donor, said it was difficult at first for some of his relatives to accept.
Amescua said organ donation is stigmatized in many in Hispanic communities. While Hispanic Americans make up about 17 percent of the country’s population, only about 13 percent of organ donors in 2012 were Hispanic, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“She helped someone else with her other eye. She saved a woman’s life in Boca Raton with her liver. Her kidneys went to another person,” Aguirre said. “When my family saw all that she was able to do for other people in that way, they understood.”
Through the healing process, Aguirre said he often finds himself looking at a mirror, staring into his left eye.
“It’s wonderful and overwhelming at the same time,” he said. “I look at my face, and I know a part of her eyes are part of me now. I know that she’ll be with me forever.”