Educating the public on the importance of organ and tissue donations has become another mission of the Taney County Coroner’s Office.
Taney County Coroner Tony Mullen, who was recently re-elected as coroner during the Aug. 4 primary election, said that his office works with a couple of different organ donation organizations in Missouri, including Kansas City-based organization Saving Sight.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Saving Sight’s mission is to change lives by doing just what their name suggests, saving sight. Founded in 1960, Saving Sight has become one of the nation’s leading eye banks. Saving Sight also facilitates eye transplant donation in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois, according to their website saving-sight.org.
“This is an organization that salvages corneas and eyes to do eye transplants,” said Mullen. “They also work with another organization in the state of Missouri that does organs and tissue donations. So whenever we send a referral into Saving Sight they’re the ones that do all the footwork as far as contacting the family, speaking to them about the process and if they’re willing to do it.
They also contact the other organizations if this person is a candidate for tissue and organ donation. So with one phone call we can cover all those basis with an individual.”
Mullen explained that, through this organization, he’s hoping to bring awareness to the fact that eye donations, which are not often discussed, are a viable transplant option.
“Our goal is just to get some information out to our community and let them make the decisions early. That away they can go over this information with their family and make decisions prior to their death,” said Mullen. “So that you can talk to your family about it and talk to your loved ones. Let them know what your wishes are so that whenever you do pass away they’re not trying to make these decisions by themselves and not knowing exactly what you would have wanted.”
While Mullen couldn’t go into specific details, he was able to share that Taney County had their own eye donation success story back in 2018.
“The coroner’s office here in Taney County gave a referral to Saving Sight and they were able to utilize that individuals corneas and transplant them into a recipient here in Taney County. That was just one success story that stayed locally. This company works all over the nation, but luckily this one got to be utilized locally,” said Mullen. “I definitely feel like that it is important to let everybody know that when we have local success stories here in Taney County.”
As coroner, Mullen’s position often involves the grim side of things, including working crime scenes and conducting autopsies. Mullen confirmed that when he’s able to help facilitate a transplant, it provides a bit of light into his office.
“It’s vital to get this information out there, so that we can have more of these success stories, as opposed to always just dealing with death,” said Mullen. “I mean, anytime we can give life to someone else and be a part of that, we’ve very excited to do that.”
Mullen said that earlier this year, his game plan was to host a handful of community outreach events, but due to COVID-19, they’ve been weary about planning anything.
“Right now we’ve just kind of put that on hold until we see where this COVID thing is going to take us, but that is planned for the future. We just don’t have a time or date yet. What we’re going to do is (Saving Sight) is going to come down with a team of people, along with my office, and try to reach at least two or three different venues within our county here in Taney,” said Mullen. “Most people don’t really understand this stuff, and it’s difficult to talk to people at a time when they’ve lost their loved one and try to make that make sense as well. It’s a hard time. So it’s easier to let them make that decision early on.”
Each day, Saving Sight provides the gift of sight to nine individuals through the gift of cornea donation and transplantation. Additionally, 110,000 individuals in the U.S. are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, according to its website.
Mullen said that, if anyone is interested in learning more about Saving Sight or the donation process, he would like to invite them to contact his office.
“The more we make people aware of these, the more success stories we’re going to have,” Mullen said. “So that’s just exciting for us to know that maybe we can be a part of that and help someone see again, receive an organ transplant or whatever it may be that they need.”
For additional information, contact the Taney County Coroner’s Office at 417-239-4387 or visit saving-sight.org.