Teutopolis woman closes in on fundraising goal for eye surgery

Kathy Tensen holding her granddaughter, Linnea.

The Teutopolis community is helping a blind woman where insurance can’t.

Kathy Tensen has struggled with issues with her eyes and vision for her entire life. In her early 40s, she lost almost all of her vision. Now, thanks to an experimental procedure involving bone marrow-derived stem cells, she hopes to regain some of her vision.

The only issue is that Medicare won’t pay for this surgery, according to Tensen.

“Medicare has been very good to me,” she said. But she noted that “there are some gray areas with stem cells” in regards to what it will pay for.

Enter Tensen’s step daughters, headed up by Anne Woods, who works as an entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Woods set up a GoFundMe page for her step-mother.

GoFundMe is a platform where people can crowdfund projects, meaning soliciting donations through GoFundMe’s platform. These projects are varied, including things like business ideas, social programs, artistic endeavors, charities, and individuals in financial need.

“Kathy has truly just been one of the best people in my life,” Woods said, explaining why she’s doing this.

So far, Woods has raised more than $12,000 of the $17,400 they need to fund the surgery. This will cover the cost of the surgery, travel to and from the surgery center in Florida, and pre-operation expenses. Donations have ranged in size from a handful of $5 donations to a $1,000 donation. All told, there have been over 140 donors, each giving an average of about $87.

“I recognized a lot of the last names as local,” Tensen explained. She added that she didn’t recognize the majority of the names, though she can tell that many of the donations have come through her family and church community.

“I am just absolutely so thankful for the outpouring of support,” Tensen said.

Some of these donations include notes from the donor.

“My granddaughter graduated 2020 with Nicholas & I have a grandson born with glaucoma,” wrote Regina Figueroa, who donated $50. “God Bless the Tensen Family and your medical team as you proceed in your treatment! Prayers to St. Lucy, Patron of Eyes and Vision,” wrote Bernard and Mona Vahling, who donated $100 to the effort.

While the procedure won’t completely restore her vision, it could improve it enough that she could see things again. “I just want to see my family’s faces,” Tensen said. “Their eyes. Their smile. Someone waving at me from across the room.”

Woods recalls her childhood, when she met Tensen.

“I remember her for about five years when she could still see,” Woods said. “It was heartbreaking to see her light fade a bit.”

While Tensen didn’t go blind until well into her adult life, she has struggled with eye issues since birth. She was born with congenital cataracts and glaucoma.

“I’ve lived with this all my life,” she said, describing some of the surgeries she’s had. “I’ve had four cornea transplants.”

Tensen said that she is blow away by the state of modern medicine, having had first hand experience with the development of new glaucoma and cataracts treatments throughout her life.

The procedure itself is part of the Stem Cell Ophthalmology Treatment Study, a clinical study using bone marrow-derived stem cells to improve vision in a wide array of understudied retinal and optic nerve diseases. The study is being overseen by Dr. Jeffrey Weiss and Dr. Steven Levy.

The study has produced at least 14 peer reviewed papers published in journals including Neural Regeneration Research, Stem Cell Investigations, and EC Ophthalmology.

“Several of our larger papers show statistical significance, which is the ‘gold standard’ in medicine in order to show that the treatment is responsible for the results,” Levy said.

Levy and his collaborators have operated on over 1200 eyes representing 47 different ophthalmic diseases. These operations have yielded no adverse effects. The majority of their subjects have improved vision after the procedure is performed, according to Levy, who has also described these figures in peer-reviewed research articles.

While Levy supports current standards of care for eye-related issues, he wants to find new ways to treat diseases that are currently untreatable.

“I’m seeking to make an impact on ophthalmology, helping to guide the development of new approaches to eye disease that can benefit patients for years to come,” Levy said. “Unless you have one of these diseases, you really don’t understand the hopelessness that people who are blind or have severe visual limitations live with. Working in cellular medicine is one important way that many untreatable or undertreated eye diseases can be addressed.”

For Tensen, Levy’s work could mean a chance to see her family again.

“I have a little granddaughter. I can’t tell you what she looks like,” she said. The fact that it’s being made possible through community support is – I can’t even put it into words,” Tensen said.

The gofundme site is at gofundme.com/f/help-our-stepmom-regain-her-sight

Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or andrew.adams@effinghamdailynews.com

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Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or andrew.adams@effinghamdailynews.com

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