Small but mighty, the gift Brendan Bummer received when he was 21 has made a huge difference in his life. That gift — a cornea — allowed Bummer to recognize his loved one’s faces, complete his college education and encouraged him to give back to his community.
On Oct. 20, Bummer dropped the puck to start the home game between Casper Bobcats Junior Hockey and the Cheyenne Stampede team as part of Donate Life Wyoming Night. The Casper Bobcats joined Donate Life Wyoming for the weekend to celebrate organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation.
There’s good cause to celebrate. Wyoming, at 60 percent, is now in the top 10 states for the number of people who mark donor on their driver’s license, said Ryea’ O’Neill, a spokesman for Donor Alliance.
“For my husband and I, this is a very personal cause, because with a heart transplant, our very first child would most likely have survived and celebrated this weekend with us,” said Janel Schierkolk, an owner of the Bobcats.
Already in need of glasses since age 9, Bummer’s eyesight deteriorated rapidly in college. A specialist diagnosed him with Keratoconus, a gradual thinning of the cornea, causing it to bulge outward. The condition, which affected both of his eyes, occurs mainly in teenagers and adults in their 20s. His left eye became impossible to correct with glasses or special contact lenses. He was placed on a transplant list.
The cornea, a thin, dome-shaped covering, is responsible for 65-75 percent of the eye’s focusing power. It protects the eye from dirt and germs, and it filters out damaging UV rays from the sun. Most people are potential corneal donors, and the transplants can restore vision and reduce pain.
After six months, a cornea was available. Although the rejection rate is high, Bummer’s transplant was successful. He required Lasik surgery two years after the transplant, which gave him normal vision for 10 years, and is now corrected to normal with contacts. His right eye is currently stable. Without the transplant, he wouldn’t be able to recognize people or things without his contacts.
Bummer owns four Casper businesses, serves on the boards of the YMCA and The Lyric, and coaches youth soccer.
“Coach Bummer works hard to motivate us to play good, and gives every kid a fair chance,” said 12-year-old Parker O’Neill, who plays on the soccer team. “I don’t think he’d be able to do this if he did not receive his transplant years ago.”
“I never met the donor. He was a male about my age. I’m very grateful to that person for saying yes to being a donor. It’s an incredible gift. I have benefited greatly from it,” said Bummer.
Misty Wynia’s husband, Jason, a Casper resident who dropped the puck at last year’s game, received a heart transplant in 2010.
Only 35 years old when he began experiencing shortness of breath, Jason was treated several times for pneumonia before being diagnosed with severe idiopathic cardiomyopathy (unknown reason for an enlarged heart). His heart deteriorated rapidly, resulting in a life flight to a Salt Lake City hospital and insertion of a mechanical heart pump while he waited for a donor heart. Nine and a half months later, he received a heart.
Eight years out, Jason is doing well and recently graduated to annual check-ups instead of every six months.
What’s it like for the spouse of a recipient? Needing a transplant is a family affair. At first, there’s “uncertainty,” said Misty. “Trying to figure out what’s going on.” She took on the role of pushing the medical profession for answers, encouraging her husband in his decisions, learning about medical issues, “keeping things moving,” she said.
She handled the business end of tying up their lives in Casper so they could live in Salt Lake City for the two years the transplant required. She quit her job in Wyoming, found an apartment in Salt Lake, sold the family’s old house and vehicle, moved their possessions into storage, and made many trips back and forth between Wyoming and Utah.
Family support was important during this time.
Misty has advice for spouses of recipients.
“Be an advocate for your spouse and yourself, look for a support group, ask questions. We found out afterwards that insurance would have covered part of our rent. [You will meet] a lot of people on your journey, talk to them. You may have to file for bankruptcy, there’s no shame in that.”
One donor can make a difference to many. Photographer John Galvin of Casper is part of a donor family.
“My brother-in-law passed away suddenly in 2016, but was registered as a donor. They were able to use his heart, both lungs, and kidneys to help save five people. That is why my wife Cary and I volunteer with Donate Life Wyoming,” Galvin said.