Gertrude Matthews: Patient Care Grant – Sight

After 40 years of caring for more than 100 foster children, Gertrude Matthews sat confined in a tiny apartment in Burien, blinded by an accident of 14 years ago, when a playful two-year old accidently kicked her right eye while they were playing on the couch. With the other eye now failing, too, Gertrude felt like a prisoner of circumstance.

Though she had lived in the apartment for a year, the walls were bare – no need for photos or art you can’t see. Confined to a wheelchair as a result of a stroke, she watched TV from just a few feet away but saw only blurs. Reading was out of the question, and she identified visitors by voices rather than faces. When a staff member of the Northwest Lions Foundation brought her flowers, she used a magnifying glass just to see the colors.

That was the picture for Gertrude, and it wasn’t right. At age 84, if anyone deserved help from others, it was this woman who had given of herself for four decades to children who had no one else to turn to. Gertrude kept up her considerable spirit with memories, like the time one of the boys she had raised traveled from California on his 16th birthday to surprise her with a visit. The boy’s re-united father had asked what he wanted for his birthday. His answer? “Take me to Seattle to see Gertrude.”

Clearly, here was a woman who deserved a helping hand. Her first breakthrough came when surgeon Harry Geggel determined that she was a candidate for Keratoprosthesis – a new type of surgery done with an artificial cornea. Gertrude’s eye had been so badly damaged by the kick that two attempts at traditional transplant surgery with donor cornea tissue had failed to take hold. Familiar with our sight mission, Dr. Geggel called the Northwest Lions Foundation to ask for help with the $3,000 cost of the artificial cornea, which was not covered by Medicare. When Dr. Geggel told us about Gertrude, and about his own commitment to perform the surgery for free, our answer was a resounding yes. A Patient Care Grant from the Foundation paid for half of the cost. Five Lions Clubs – Burien, Renton, Kennydale, Fairwood, and Seattle Rainier – teamed up to pay the other half.

The surgery took place in January 2008, and it worked! Gertrude’s vision has improved dramatically and continues to get better. Now instead of identifying people by their voices, she sees their faces. She’s even reading again.

“It’s hard to tell people who haven’t been through it how good it feels to see again,” she says. “I think I’d rather lose any part of my body other than my eyes. I appreciate what the Lions did for me so much!”

It was our privilege to help, Gertrude. May your eyes light up many times in the years ahead at the sight of much-loved familiar faces.