Family’s search for grandmother’s organ recipient gets a break

Thelma Danahy Leonard was an organ donor in 1975. Her family is searching for the person who received her eyes. (KXAN Photo)
Thelma Danahy Leonard was an organ donor in 1975. Her family is searching for the person who received her eyes. (KXAN Photo)

BURNET, Texas (KXAN) — A Burnet family is one step closer to finding out who may have received a life-changing organ donation more than 40 years ago when their grandmother died.

Back in 1975, ovarian cancer attacked Thelma Danahy Leonard’s body, quickly spreading to most of her organs. Her eyes were spared. The 42-year-old organ donor agreed to give them to another patient.

Now, more than 40 years later, her grandchildren want to find the person who received her eyes.

“It will be closure for us,” said Erin Burkhalter, one of Leonard’s granddaughters. Their grandmother died when their mother was about 15 years old. They were never able to meet their grandmother.

After six years of searching, the family got a tip while on a trip to Dallas. “We found this newspaper article this past weekend at our family reunion,” Burkhalter said. “That gave us more details.”

The article revealed that Leonard’s eyes went to a blind 14-year-old girl. It also tracked the trek the organs made from Texas to a Nashville, Tennessee hospital on the day Leonard died. Within hours of arrival, doctors were able to use three different parts of the organs during surgery.

“Back then, I didn’t think they could even do that stuff,” said Jessica Messer, another granddaughter.

The family said the next step is to contact the Lion’s Club, which facilitated the surgery and may be able to put them in contact with the organ recipient. They want to peer into their grandmother’s eyes.

“That’s the hard part is people not giving us information. It’s so hard,” Messer said.

“Maybe we can use social media. maybe we can share so much out there and find something,” said Burkhalter.

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