Tom Nieman did not see it coming because it started out small.
"It starts to come in from the edges and it's very foggy," Nieman said.
However, he noticed it was becoming a life-changing condition.
"If you just kind of squint like this, that's what it was like all the time," Nieman said. "I wouldn't be able to work. I wouldn't be able to see my kids' faces."
Two years ago, the former South Dakota State University football and basketball player was diagnosed with Fuchs' Dystrophy -- a cornea disease. Though it may not lead to complete blindness, the disease clouds a person's vision considerably.
Forty-five-year-old Nieman's brother and mother both had it, and like them, he decided to undergo two cornea transplants, one in each eye.
"I get emotional about it, that somebody cared enough to donate and make that sacrifice so I could have a better life," Nieman said.
Nieman found his two new corneas right here in Sioux Falls at the South Dakota Lions Eye and Tissue Bank. The bank has been providing donor tissues, like arteries and corneas for people waiting for transplants.
As an Avera Tradition of Caring in KELOLAND recipient, SDLETB partners with hospitals and research labs all over the state, including Alumend in Sioux Falls.
Thanks to donated tissue from SDLETB, Alumend has developed a technology that could revolutionize the fight against Periphreal Arterial Disease, which is the build-up of plaque in arteries that results in decreased blood flow to the legs and feet. People with severe PAD may have to have toes or their whole leg amputated.
"Someday somebody's going to be able to walk because of this," Physiology Research Associate Barb Haberer said.
Doctors usually treat PAD by opening up the clogged artery and using a metal stent to keep it open. The stents usually re-clog, and can cause other problems.
But, the technology developed by Alumend would allow doctors to do the same thing, but with a less invasive procedure that does not require a stent. They would compress the plaque build-up and inject a solution into the artery. The solution is absorbed by the artery and then activated with a special light. Once the solution is activated, it allows the artery to stay open on its own. This method is not available yet, but it would not even be possible with out the The Eye and Tissue Bank.
"I signed the organ donor thing on my driver's license and what not, but you don't really think about it. I haven't really had a chance. As I see how precious these samples are to our technology, you realize all the more what a generous gift it is," Alumend Chief Technology Officer Terry Downey said.
There are a few reasons why the partnership works so well. One is the proximity. Human tissue essentially has a shelf life and since SDLETB and Alumend are literally across the street from each other, Downey said the company has access to samples more quickly.
This easy access allows for better research. The human donations also enhance the research more than animal tissue would.
SDLETB plans to use the grant money to create more opportunities for education and awareness on the importance of eye and tissue donations in our area.
The organization has also worked hard to make it easier for people to become donors in the state of South Dakota, including lobbying for an online registry in the state of South Dakota. That would allow men and women more ways to sign up as donors.
"We hope to foster a community that embraces donation as a fundamental human responsibility and that when you become a donor, you donate life," SDLETB Marketing Director Nathan Kasselder said.
We may not realize the importance of tissue donation and we may not see all of the behind the scenes research that puts South Dakota on the forefront of medical discoveries. All of this paves the way life-saving treatments.
More importantly, it could help more dads like Nieman enjoy the good things in life, which always start out small.
"I think about that all the time because just driving down the street and just being able to see and being able to work and watch my daughters play basketball or a play or whatever at school. I think about it every day because it's affected my life that way," Nieman said.