Cornea Transplant Keeps World Special Olympics Champion in the Game

“The best option for you and your baby is to put her in an institution.”

That’s what a doctor told Julie Bertelsen’s parents 39 years ago when she was born with Downs Syndrome. Allen and Jan Bertelsen ignored that doctor.

Since then all Julie has done to validate her parents’ faith in her future is:

  • Win 135 Special Olympics medals in gymnastics and equestrian events, including a Gold and a Silver in the 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai, China;
  • Serve on state and local Special Olympics advisory committees and as an ambassador for the games;
  • Work multiple long-term jobs. Julie currently works at the athletic facility for Montana State University and at two local sporting goods stores;
  • Win a large following both within the university and the surrounding community from fans who take inspiration from seeing positivism and spunk exuded on a daily basis.

In fact, it seemed like the whole city was at the airport to greet Julie when she returned home from the 2007 games in China. Every member of the Montana State women’s basketball team was in the crowd, as well as athletes from many of the other university teams, customers of the businesses where Julie works, employers, family, and just plain fans.

How our SightLife Lions eye bank fits in

In 1999 when Julie was 29 years old, the athletic career that has brought her so much joy faced a premature end from impending blindness in her right eye. Cornea tissue from SightLife enabled the sight-restoring transplant that saved her vision and provided continued opportunity to excel in sports.

Last year, SightLife weighed in again for Julie when she faced the most devastating loss of her life. Allen Betelsen, Julie’s father, coach, and lifelong hero, died at the age of 69. As attested by the nearly 800 people at his funeral, Allen Bertelsen had the same gift for friendship as his daughter. After seeing what cornea donation had made possible for Julie, there was never a doubt that he would be a donor. Two people in faraway Japan now see the world through his eyes.

Julie found both comfort and pride in her father’s gift. For this woman who has used parental love and God-given spunk to achieve beyond expectations, the lesson must speak as loud as a Lion’s roar: human kindness is a gift that always comes around.