By Karli Barnett

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A South Florida man is sharing his story with the hope of helping others, after he nearly lost sight in one of his eyes.

A relatively common infection led to a painful and frightening ordeal, ultimately resulting in the need for a cornea transplant.

Many people are not aware of the need for eye donors, but Nolan Bourgeois is working to change that with the help of social media. He has a 20/20 vision that is being embraced by people all over the world.

Bourgeois was an engineer. He wore contacts to correct his vision, but never had any problems with his eyes.

However, in June 2014, everything changed. Bourgeois says what started just as an itchy right eye, became excruciatingly painful in just two days.

“The worst pain ever. My eye was shut, and I was scared to death,” he says. “I gradually opened it up and went into shock from not being able to see. That was a horrible moment right there. That was rough,” he recalled.

Nolan Bourgeois gets eyes examined (CBS4)

After going to the emergency room, Bourgeois was immediately referred to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

According to Dr. Guillermo Amescua, Bourgeois suffered a corneal infection from Pseudomonas bacteria, a fast-spreading organism that can destroy the cornea. He had headaches, sensitivity to light, and in a worsening situation, a fungal infection.

“Even with the medicines being very compliant, it was still going toward a transplant,” Dr. Amescua says. “We were able to use a specific light with a chemical to make the cornea stronger and debilitate the fungus.”

When he learned he would need a transplant, Bourgeois searched for more than just medical information.

“I wanted to get in contact with others who had the same problem, so I can learn from them and talk to them.  It was pretty lonely not knowing anyone going through the same problem.”

(CBS4)

That spurred him to create a network on Facebook called the “Corneal Transplant Support Group” for anyone who is a pre or post-transplant recipient.

“I finally was able to understand what others were going through, and it made me more comfortable and relaxed,” he says.

In 2018, after being blind in his eye for almost five years, Bourgeois was able to undergo the transplant procedure with tissue from the Florida Lions Eye Bank.

He continues to update the Facebook group on his own progress and manage the site, which gets new members all the time.

“Within the last couple of years, it has grown. Right now, we are at 2,300 members from 110 countries around the world.”

His progress is still followed closely. Bourgeois has become somewhat of an ambassador for the Eye Bank as a grateful transplant recipient.

“I am probably going to be dealing with my eye for the rest of my life, but I can see,” he says. “I can start living a normal life again.”

Bourgeois hopes to establish a foundation to help countries that do not have eye banks get corneas for transplantation.

For more information on how to be a donor, visit donatelifeflorida.org. 

Karli Barnett

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