Robby’s Story

Robby Holmes was just 19 years old when a BB pellet forever changed how he would view the world. Though his is a story with its fair share of pain and difficulty, it is one worth telling for it is also a story of perseverance, forgiveness, empowerment, and community. As is often the case with tales that bear repeating, degrees of chance and circumstance have conspired to create a story with deeper meaning and a more satisfying resolution involving both men, a new non-profit organization, the local community, and Lions VisionGift.

15 years ago Robby was driving through his home town of Ida Grove, Iowa when a stainless steel BB pellet, fired from the side of the road by a young man, struck Robby’s right eye. The damage done by the ricocheting projectile necessitated multiple surgeries in the intervening years, starting with his first cornea transplant and leading up to his recent successful operation this past summer for the glaucoma which developed 8 years ago.

Never one to take the “poor me” philosophy on the events of those days, Robby has harnessed a natural enthusiasm for life and poured it into his passions of music and community. His gregarious nature and kind spirit are immediately evident upon meeting him and have helped Robby become a respected member of his local community, through his community music promotion efforts. Given the impact of his work for local artists, it is of no surprise that his community responded to his developing plight surrounding paying for additional eye surgery.

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Teresa Rambaud

Teresa Rambaud was only 14 when she was diagnosed with Keratoconus – a progressive eye disease that affects the cornea. In spite of this, at the age of 17, Teresa was able to visit Silverton, Oregon as an exchange student from Mexico.

By the time Teresa was 20, she had become totally blind. Life was dark and difficult at times, and she would often fall and hurt herself. Teresa was incredibly grateful for the care and support of the teachers and classmates who got her through school – assisting with studying and even giving her tests orally. But Teresa’s family made the greatest sacrifices, assisting her each day and routinely loading their large family into the car for 12-hour round trips to El Paso, Texas, to see eye specialists. Teresa got through it by focusing on the good moments of her life. She says, “Even when I was blind, I have always been able to see my blessings.” 

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Nancy Barbelli

After an airborne bacteria infected her right eye, “simple” tasks became impossible for Nancy. Thanks to a cornea donor, she now has her vision and her life back.

In 2015, Nancy’s sight was unexpectedly compromised. At first, she noticed a blurring of her vision, but wasn’t too concerned until her eye became pink and closed up. Her doctor discovered that a bacterial infection from an unknown source had built a wall around her cornea. Nancy’s anxiety grew when she arrived in Pittsburgh to see a specialist and was greeted at the emergency entrance by a medical team wearing full biohazard gear. For the next 24 hours, she was quarantined and told that if her eye, now sealed closed, didn’t open within the next eight days, she might lose it. Over the course of eight days, Nancy remained hospitalized, undergoing tests while enduring throbbing pain in her head and extreme light sensitivity. She put a lot of faith into the medical team whose voices she came to trust but whose faces she could barely see. On the eighth day, Nancy’s eye opened.

Nancy credits God with opening her eye, but there was still a long road ahead – more tests, more pills, more drops, but no cure in sight. When her eye doctor began using an autologous serum to battle the infection, Nancy began to see real improvements, but doctors recognized that the eye was too badly damaged to recover fully. Cornea transplant would be the best solution.

Four years after her initial infection, Nancy felt ready to undergo surgery. The procedure was longer than usual at three and a half hours, but it changed Nancy’s life forever. Nancy says, “I call it my ‘angel eye.’ I look at my eye in the mirror and I say, ‘You know what? We’re family now. I have a family in Portland somewhere. You are my gift.’”

Nancy hasn’t met her donor’s family, but they have exchanged letters, and her donor’s family says it well: “I’m so sorry you had to wait so long, but now you see the light.”

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