First off, how are you feeling?
I’m feeling great. There have been some difficult challenges here and there but overall I’m no longer in pain and I’m getting back to normal. I have a great support system and they help me keep positive everyday.
What are some of your hobbies and interests? Were they affected by your need to restore your eyesight?
I’m an artist. I love to paint and sketch. I was enrolled at a school for Fashion Merchandising at the time and I had to put that on pause because it became hard to see and study. I became extremely discouraged and just focusing on what I was doing became harder.
Why did you need a cornea transplant?
I have an eye disease called Keratoconus, which is caused by abnormal curving and swelling of the cornea. My left eye progressed very rapidly and I was told that in about 15-20 years I would need to consider having a transplant but never did i think after four years since being told that i had this disease, I would be receiving a transplant. I was driving to school on the highway when i felt my eye water and throbbing. When i got to the emergency room i could no longer see anything but a faint light and I was told that I had Acute Corneal Hydrops which in terms that they told me was basically a tear in my cornea which caused swelling and decreased vision. At that point the only thing they could do was preform a corneal transplant in my eye.
How long did you have to wait for a transplant, and when did you receive your new sight?
I didn’t wait long for my transplant. Because my eye was swollen they needed to wait for the swelling to go down before seeing how much damage i had. I went into the emergency room June 1st and received my transplant July 1st, so I technically waited without swelling two weeks but from the moment i was told i needed it, I waited exactly one month.
Can you give us a crash course on how the procedure works?
Well… i’ll try my hardest since i was put to sleep for the procedure because i was a sack of nerves. I received numbing drops and general anesthesia before going in and did not feel a thing. They remove the damaged cornea and replace it with the donor tissue and stitch it back together with about 16 stitches. I was told that each stitch is as thin, If not thinner than a piece of human hair. Then i woke up with an extremely comfortable eye patch on and that was it. The procedure usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete but mine took 2 and a half hours because of complications due to bleeding.
How long and what are the steps to a successful recovery?
The steps to recovery are not hard but are very tedious. You can not bend down, carry anything more than 10 pounds, strain when using the bathroom or lifting because all those things cause pressure in the eye. Sneezing and coughing was probably the most painful part of the first week for me and it even hurt to cry at times. Besides that recovery was quick, within three weeks i felt back to normal physically and now the only part of recovery is to wait to get my vision back. They say it could take about a year for my vision to stabilize but until then it will continue to change.
Do you know anything about your donor?
I do not know anything about my donor but I can submit paperwork after a year to find out. She/he gave me such an incredible gift and ill forever be grateful. I really hope that I can meet their family and thank them for their family member giving me a piece of my life back. Its truly a blessing.
If there was something you could say to your donor, what would it be?
To my new angel…
No words or gestures can ever measure up to how grateful I am for this gift you have given me. I don’t know what happened to you but i feel so connected with you in many ways and pray for your family and loved ones daily. You’ve changed me and made me stronger than I ever thought I could be. I think of you constantly and only imagine you are smiling looking down at all the lives you saved from heaven. I’m so lucky to have been a perfect match with you and I hope to give back to someone one day the way you did for me. I promise that i will never let you down. A million thank you’s will never be enough.
What does the future have in store for Ashley Rodriguez?
At this moment I’m still a work in progress. I’m going to be open about any opportunities coming my way and i will do things with a positive mind and a kind heart. My main focus right now is recovery and finishing my degree in school. I ultimately want to inspire people one day and help as much as possible.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with setbacks?
Be patient. Take the time to heal mentally and physically. Don’t be so tough on yourself because everything happens for a reason and you weren’t given this path unless you could handle it. Trust that the process will get better and that its just another title bump in the road. You are stronger than you think you are. You can do this and always know you are not alone!