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Meet the Photographers: Shauna Atkins

Shauna Atkins is one of the cornea transplant recipients who has a photo in the 2017 Circle ofLight Photo Project. Shauna spoke to us about her transplants and the impact they've had on her life.  Get your tickets to the exhibit and reception on March 10 at this link. 

What kind of corneal disease or condition caused your corneal blindness? I was diagnosed with keratoconous at the age of 13. Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease in which the normally round cornea thins and begins to bulge into a cone-like shape. This cone shape deflects light as it enters the eye on its way to the light-sensitive retina, causing distorted vision.

How many years did your corneal condition impact your vision and your life? For years I was put through experimental treatments but nothing worked and there was no cure. By the time I was 20, I was legally blind and had to withdraw from the University of Kansas. After my return to Colorado I wasn’t able to drive and could not work regularly. I was house bound most of the time. My vision was distorted; my balance was seriously affected. I got part time jobs from local business owners who knew of my condition, but I couldn’t make ends meet and had to sell my house to pay my medical bills. I was losing a grip on my life and becoming more frightened about how I was going to cope with being blind. I did not want to burden my family or friends or go on government assistance. The irony was that when I lost my sight I relied on others for nearly everything. I was humbled and terrified. I was anxious and lost. I became depressed and crushed with hopelessness

When was your corneal transplant? In 1991 and 1992, through the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank, I received the gift of sight through two corneal transplants. I will never forget how I felt following the surgeries when the bandages were removed and I could see my family’s faces, the blue Colorado sky, and images of life that had begun to fade from my life. For years I struggled to accept that the loss of two lives had given me the gift of sight. In time, I came to the resolution that Divine plans don’t always follow human understanding

How has your vision improved since your transplant?  My transplants allowed me to have 20/20 vision, I emerged from being shut down emotionally, socially, physically and my life blossomed. The experience of losing and regaining my eyesight didn’t make me a better person, but it helped me discover a better version of myself. Since I regained my sight, I make every effort for my actions to have purpose and meaning and I hope that my contributions will benefit someone else. I donate, volunteer, and give to others. I live a happy, healthy, giving, adventurous life. I have an amazing family, a terrific job, and this past December I graduated with my degree in architectural engineering and construction management… And I remember to pay it forward… I’m an organ and tissue donor. 

I am more grateful each day as I experience life’s color:  The amazing mountains, rivers, and monuments - their hues, tones, dimensions and shades. The look of joy on faces of people I hadn’t seen in years.  This was a special trip because I was able to see things that would have been impossible without my corneal transplants. When a person says that they “want to see the world,” as I do, I wonder if they understand that one literally needs their vision to do that. I am humbled that I was given the gift of sight, and understand how blessed I am to have my vision today.