2701 Kingman Street
STE 200
Metairie, Louisiana 70006

Phone (504) 891-3937
Fax (504) 891-2401

An Organization for United Sight

A Proud Member of the Donate Life Louisiana Collaberation

Media Articles & Press Releases

Event remembers those who received, gave gift of sight
Special to The Advocate
March 19, 2013Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- After getting his face painted at the Audubon Zoo,is transplant recipient Jason Spinks, 5, who has a condition called persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous, or PHPV, a rare congenital condition that can result in a detected or scarred retina. Jason shares a butterfly with Anya Himel, 5, whose grandmother recently died and was an organ donor. The kids were at the zoo Saturday to take part in a butterfly release was sponsored by the Southern Eye Bank during its annual Gift of Sight Celebration.
NEW ORLEANS — Jason Spinks, 5, of Ponchatoula, and Anya Himel, 6, of New Orleans, became fast friends on Saturday.

Strangers before this day, the youngsters posed for photos with their faces painted — his like a gorilla, hers with a butterfly across the bridge of her nose. And together, they gently tried to catch the dozens of butterflies released into the wild at Audubon Zoo.

Because the two children are so young, neither really understood exactly why they were there or why they got to be the ones to open the jars of butterflies — but their families did.

Anya’s grandmother Gigi Himel, of Folsom, died in November. But in a final act of life, Gigi Himel’s family agreed to allow her to become an organ donor.

In Ponchatoula, little Jason was born with a condition called persistent hyperplastic primary vitreous, also called PHPV, in which the eye does not grow and develop normally.

Eventually, Jason’s right eye had to be removed. But in June, Jason became the recipient of a donated cornea, which was transplanted into his eye with a prosthetic placed over it. Still sightless in his right eye, Jason’s doctors hope the eye will strengthen with time.

On Saturday, both of these families and hundreds of others gathered at Audubon Zoo for the fifth annual Southern Eye Bank Gift of Sight Celebration to commemorate those who gave as well as those who have received. The event offered those who attended a day of food, drink, activities for kids and various memorials.

A table was set up for loved ones to display photos of their lost family members who became donors and families were invited to contribute squares for a memorial quilt.

But the highlight of the day was an emotional release of dozens of butterflies, assisted by Anya and Jason, to symbolize the metamorphosis of life.

“This is one of the events that every employee here looks forward to,” said eye bank Executive Director Billy Buras. “It kind of gives us the energy to go on. It’s a very hard job to do. I’ve been doing this for 11 years, and we deal with a lot of death, a lot of sadness. And you kind of get down. But you come to this and you just get so re-energized. You may cry, but you cry because people are happy and they’re telling stories about their family members.”

And children become friends for life.

“Jason has invited us to his birthday party, and we’re going,” said Anya’s mom, Bridget.

Jason’s mother, Sena Spinks, said her son understood what Saturday’s event was about, even if he couldn’t express it to the adults.

“We talked about it,” Spinks said. “He knows he doesn’t have a real eye like other kids. He’s well aware. And we told him that, ‘When you go to heaven, when Jesus calls someone to heaven because they’re sick or have a bo-bo, sometimes they’re needed to help other people.’ So, he has an angel with him. So, he has an angel’s eye.”

Spinks said she has no information about Jason’s donor and doesn’t know if the donor’s relatives know about him.

“I haven’t written a donor letter yet because every time I try, I cry,” she said. “But after today, we’re going to go home and I’m going to try.”

Bob Himel had a harder time talking about his late wife, Gigi.

“This just brings it all together,” he said through his tears.

The Serpas family, of New Orleans, agreed. The aunt and uncle of Southern Eye Bank employee Sara Botsay, Louis and Terry Serpas had been invited to previous events but never attended.

Then, Louis’ sister, Cathy Smith, 57, lost her long battle with breast cancer in July. Her eye tissue was donated to two Nebraska men, one age 40, the other 60, they said.

“She made the decision herself,” an emotional Louis Serpas said. “She was slightly mentally challenged, but she made the decision.”

“We said today there must have been a reason we didn’t come,” Terry Serpas said. “We were meant to be here today. It was very emotional. We just didn’t realize how nice this was. It’s really a very heart-warming thing.”

December 4, 2012
For Immediate release:
Colleen Oltmann
Director of Education and Development
Southern Eye Bank
2701 Kingman Street
Ste 200
Metairie, LA 70006

Teen’s gift honored in 2013 Rose Parade

Shortly after graduating from Torrence High School in California, Brittany Nicole Cail made plans to visit her grandparents in Slidell, Louisiana. Brittany enjoyed her visit so much that she decided to make Louisiana her new home. She met many new friends, secured a job at Slidell Memorial Hospital and received a Louisiana driver’s license.

While at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Brittany made the decision to register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor. During a visit from her mother, Raquel Cail Gonzalez, Brittany asked “Mom, are you an organ donor?” Raquel stated that she wasn’t quite sure where her daughter was going with the conversation, but when Brittany pulled out her new driver’s license and showed her the red-heart-donor-designation, she immediately knew what her only child meant to say. She and her daughter continued to discuss the matter. Not being very serious, Brittany told her mother that if the time ever came, she wanted her eyes to be donated because they were her best feature.

Three months after that conversation, the young and vibrant Brittany became homesick and planned to move back to California to attend training in the medical field.  According to Raquel, Brittany was such a friendly, giving, hardworking, good natured person, that her daughter’s choice of profession would have been perfect for her. Brittany had planned to move back to California to reunite with her mother on April 27, 2008.

However, on April 4th, Raquel was notified that Brittany was in a serious car accident and should immediately make the trip to Louisiana but all flights into New Orleans were cancelled due to a severe rainstorm; the same storm Brittany was driving in when she lost control of her car and hit a telephone pole. Brittany’s parents drove 33 hours, almost non-stop, to Slidell Memorial Hospital where Brittany lay in a coma. She was on a ventilator and had sustained a traumatic brain injury, along with a punctured lung and broken ribs.

Raquel remarked that other than the internal injuries, Brittany didn’t have a scratch on her.  The thought of her dying had never entered her mind; after all, Brittany was a strong, healthy 19 year-old. Raquel added that she had hoped and believed that Brittany was going to come out of her coma and have a great story to tell. Brittany was in a wonderful hospital where she worked, so most of the staff knew and loved her. She was constantly surrounded by friends in the hospital. A love journal was kept at bedside and friends and family were always leaving her notes of encouragement.

On Wednesday, April 9, 2008, after leaving the Hospital Chapel, the hope that Brittany’s family once felt had slowly diminished as physicians at Slidell Memorial explained that Brittany experienced a blood clot in her lung. Due to complications, she was deemed brain dead.

Raquel immediately remembered her daughter’s intentions to become an organ, eye and tissue donor. “Of course, if I had to make that decision, I know I would have consented, but I am so very grateful that Brittany had already made that decision for herself. It is not a decision any parent should ever have to make. I am so proud of my daughter!”

This year, the 10th Annual Donate Life Rose Parade Float, entitled “Journey’s of the Heart” will carry 30 riders representing organ, eye and tissue donors and transplant recipients. A pathway of looping hearts will be lined with 72 memorial floragraph portraits. One of whose image will be in the likeness of Brittany.

This past weekend, Brittany’s mother and grandmother, Bettie Noland, lovingly created the floragraph. While doing so, they remembered not only the kind, selfless and generous decision that Brittany made but also remembered the recipients of her Gifts….

Brittany’s left kidney and pancreas was given to a 43 year old father of one.

Brittany’s right kidney was given to a 45 year old mother of one. She was on the waiting list for 7 years.

Brittany’s liver was given to a 46 year old husband and father of one child.

Brittany’s corneas were gifted to the LSU Eye Center

“I am proud to say that my daughter saved lives and improved the quality of life for many others and their families. I believe it is one of the most unselfish gifts anyone can give.”

For more information on the Donate Life’s Rose Parade Float, or how to register to become an organ, eye and tissue donor, visit or call 504-891-EYES.


Raquel Cail Gonzalez and Bettie Noland proudly display Brittany’s floragraph. 19 year old Brittany will be posthumously honored in the 2013 Donate Life Rose Parade Float.





December 12-15, 2011

“Gift of Sight Week”

2011 Vision Screening Project Flyer

See above flyer for details.


Lakeside Hospice would like to thank Southern Eye Bank for the wonderful work that they do. One of our patients chose to donate his corneas upon his death, and now 2 people are able to see and experience the world. This generosity provided much comfort to the donor family as well as an amazing gift to the recipients! Click Lakeside Hospice Face Book Page to view their page.


CONTACT: Lindsay LaBove 337-491-7177

CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital will receive the 2010 Gift of Sight Hospital of the Year Award from the Southern Eye Bank on March 31, 2011. The award ceremony will take place at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Garber Auditorium at 2:30 p.m.

The Gift of Sight Award is presented by Southern Eye Bank to a partner hospital that has facilitated their mission of saving and restoring eyesight. The hospital chosen extends exemplary support and care to grieving families as they make end of life decisions for their loved ones.

“Through compliance with federal regulations, professional and caring staff and our committed partnership, Christus St. Patrick Hospital helped thirty-four families make the compassionate decision to donate ocular tissue,” says Joy Fragola, Professional Outreach Director for Southern Eye Bank. “This gift helped to restore sight to 34 people in need of corneal transplants and affected countless others through donation for research.”

Southern Eye Bank (SEB) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of sight. SEB processes and distributes donor tissue for ocular surgery and research -based need. SEB’s service area extends from the New Orleans area through southwest Louisiana, including 26 parishes and over 138 hospitals. They have been serving the public for more than 60 years through this process.

SEB’s partnership with hospitals, coroners, and funeral homes has increased the opportunity for families to say yes to donation. Last year six hundred and twenty-two (622) families from our service area said yes to the gift of sight. While each donor can give sight to two people, there is a positive impact for donor families as well as for recipients. This gift helps others see not only with their eyes, but also with their heart. Christus St. Patrick Hospital is the fulcrum for this loving generosity.

November 19, 2010 For more information, please contact:

Colleen Oltmann Director of Education and Development

Southern Eye Bank (504) 891-3937



New Orleans , Louisiana.—- Pies are baking and leaves are falling. Southern Louisiana is preparing to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. Oh how busy this time of year can be! Stores will soon be full of shoppers purchasing gifts for everyone on their holiday lists. Gifts for family, gifts for friends, gifts for business associates and such – the list goes on and on. While many families are purchasing gifts that can be unwrapped on Christmas morning or presented during holiday gatherings, some families are pledging a gift that does not come from a store and cannot be bought. This gift is the GIFT OF SIGHT.

Southern Eye Bank, a non profit 501 (c) (3) organization understands the importance of The GIFT OF SIGHT. This very simple to give and does not need to be given only during the holiday season. It is a most precious and generous gift that only requires a simple “yes” and the only cost is a little love. Pledging to give the GIFT OF SIGHT starts with the decision to donate ocular tissue at the time of death. There are a few ways to pledge this gift once the decision to donate has been made. The Louisiana State Donor Registry contains the names of thousands of fellow Louisiana who have decided to donate ocular tissue. To be included in the Louisiana State Donor Registry, a donor card from Southern Eye Bank could be signed as well as by registering at the Department of Motor Vehicles when a driver’s license is renewed. The Louisiana State Donor Registry can also be accessed on Southern Eye Bank’s web-site at


Upon death, the potential donor’s next-of-kin will be asked if donation would be considered.

If a family discussion about this subject is not talked about, the default answer is normally “no”. If the decision about donation is made, family members should know. Whether the decision is for donation or against donation, allow family members to have the answer to a question that will be inevitably asked.

NOTE: If you are or know of a recipient of a corneal transplant and wish to send a letter or note to the donor’s family, thanking them for the GIFT OF SIGHT, simply visit our web site for instructions or call our office. Southern Eye Bank offers speakers to educate about the need for ocular tissue and the benefits of the corneal transplant. Speakers are also available for complimentary classes on eye health and safety for children 2nd to 8th grade. To schedule a speaker, call our New Orleans office at (504) 891-3937 or our Lafayette office at (337) 593-8883.

The GIFT OF SIGHT was granted to nearly 700 seven people who had a corneal transplant performed last year. The corneal transplant is not only the most common but the most successful of all transplants, more than 96% successful.




Contact: Colleen Oltmann, Director of education and Development

Southern Eye Bank

2701 Kingman Street

ste 200

Metairie, LA 70006


October 15, 2010

Halloween night…A scary time for eye docs

It’s inevitable…thousands of children will take to the streets in the pursuit of sugary delights on Halloween night. These children will not only end their evening with a sack full of candy, they might also end it with an unwanted surprise—an eye injury.

Every year, eye doctors and emergency rooms are bombarded with children and adults who received an eye injury on Halloween. Philip Castillo, Executive Director of Southern Eye Bank, states “Last year 500,000 people were admitted to the emergency room for eye injuries and half of those admitted were under the age of 21”. A large percentage of these patients received the injury while participating in Halloween festivities; many of them required corneal transplants. Although Southern Eye Bank mainly recovers, evaluates and distributes ocular for transplantation, the non-profit organization also understands the need to educate the community about keeping their eyes safe in order to prevent a corneal transplant caused by injury or trauma.

This year, children trick-or-treating in hurricane recovery areas, should be more observant than in recent years. Corneal abrasions can result from blighted homes with un-kept yards and low lying branches. Dust and debris can easily enter the eyes due to structural deficiencies in streets and sidewalks and the increased number of stairways attached to elevated homes and temporary housing trailers create a safety hazard that may perforate the eye or cause severe swelling or bruising to the area if a fall occurs. These hazards pose a higher risk on Halloween because festivities generally take place in the evening.

This Halloween, Southern Eye Bank offers the following suggestions on how to reduce the risk of your child receiving an eye injury on Halloween:

* Skip the masks, eye-patches, wigs and hooded costumes.

Masks, wigs and hoods can reduce peripheral vision and eye patches reduce depth perception. In lieu of these costume accessories, wear hypo-allergenic make-up and remove it with make-up remover or cold cream instead of soap.

* Do not use pointed or sharp props at home.

Often, props make the costume; however, pointed or sharp props such as spears, pitch-forks, swords and knives can be extremely dangerous when children play with the it in highly populated areas under low-light conditions.

* Use flashlights to illuminate your home when participating in the festivities.

Flashlights will illuminate holes in yards, uneven pavement and it will also make your child visible to vehicular traffic. Illuminating your home will encourage a safe environment for approaching children, especially if your home has steps or lush landscaping surrounding the entrance way.

* Cosmetic, decorative contact lenses should only be worn if prescribed by an eye doctor.

Contact lenses, even non-prescription lenses, are medical devices and should only be used when prescribed by an eye doctor. Consumers can often find cosmetic, decorative contact lenses via the internet or drug stores; but in doing so, they are at risk for severe ocular infection, injury, trauma and even the potential of irreversible loss of sight. If a child wishes to wear these contact lenses, an eye doctor will properly and safely fit and prescribe the contact lenses.

For more information about keeping your children’s eyes safe and healthy, contact your eye doctor or visit



Contact Information:

Colleen Oltmann, Director of Education and Development

Southern Eye Bank

2701 Kingman Street

ste 200

Metairie, LA 70006


504-891-2401 FAX



Southern Eye Bank celebrates 64 years of restoring sight

It’s summertime in Louisiana; ballparks are filled with kids, lakes are filled with boats and highways are filled with traveling vacationers. Even post-Katrina life offers hundreds of things to do, see and experience in the greater New Orleans area. But what do you do if you suddenly become blind? For those experiencing corneal blindness, the answer is Southern Eye Bank.

For hundreds of Louisianans and thousands of others across the nation, corneal disease, injury or infection causes a significant decrease in vision, often rather quickly. An anticipated summer of fun can rapidly become an anticipated summer of anxiety. The onset of sudden blindness can bring about uncertainties regarding financial, physical and emotional well-being. Colleen Oltmann, Director of Education and Development for Southern Eye Bank, states “When the cornea, the clear window of the eye, becomes cloudy, diseased or injured, visual acuity is severely reduced; this occurrence generates fears of not being able to live a normal life. Usually, the only method for restoring vision to those with corneal blindness is the corneal transplant.” The corneal transplant is a surgical procedure that replaces a defective segment of a host cornea with a healthy section of a donor’s cornea.

Southern Eye Bank, a non-profit organization, recovers, evaluates and distributes ocular tissue for transplantation because of one reason and one reason alone—Eye Donors.

Because Louisiana families other states, more people seem to know of someone who has undergone a corneal transplant. People like to talk…share their stories…celebrate their loved one’s decision to donate ocualr tissue. The fact that so many Louisians say “YES” to donation is a fourtunate situation because nearly 700 people in Lousiana have their vision restored each year due to available donor tissue.

The corneal transplant, as do most medical procedures, has evolved over time. In 1905, a successful procedure in which corneal tissue from one human was successfully transplanted into another human was performed. This break-through procedure launched a new and exciting development in the field of medicine – the corneal transplant.

Initial interest in the new procedure was low and transplants were performed infrequently during the first few decades; however, ophthalmic professionals quickly became more excited due to an organized eye donor registry that was being discussed, an increase of public support and the creation of specialized surgical instruments to use during the procedure.

In 1937, the late Dr. George Haik, Sr. performed the first corneal transplant at the former Charity Hospital in New Orleans by removing an eye of a living donor, who was scheduled to have it removed anyway, and immediately transplanting the donor’s healthy cornea onto a sixteen year-old boy who had lost his vision (due to a lime burn). After the success of the transplant, local residents embraced the notion that the blind could have their vision restored.

During WWII, blindness increased due to war-trauma and disease. As corneal transplant surgery became more successful, the need for donor tissue multiplied. Eye banks were created to meet this need. New Orleans was chosen as the distribution center for the Southeastern portion of the United States because it was the outstanding medical center of the South. Thus in July of 1947, Southern Eye Bank, the third oldest eye bank, opened up its doors for business.

Three corneal transplants had been performed with donor eyes provided by Southern Eye Bank that first year and by March of 1952, more than 200 donor eyes had been provided for corneal transplantation. In 2005, the organization was anticipating over 2,000 donor eyes until Hurricane Katrina destroyed the laboratory and displaced staff. Executive Director, Philip Castillo remembers the ordeal very well. “Southern Eye Bank has a pretty intensive hurricane preparedness procedure policy. Because of the fore-thought that went into the policy and the generosity of the Baton Rouge Regional Eye Bank’s laboratory, Southern Eye Bank was back in business in a little less than two weeks. We had no other option, too many people rely on us and our service.” Surprisingly, medical records were spared the wrath of the storm. While working out of the Baton Rouge Regional Eye Bank, daily operations continued; although, due to the lack of residents and hospitals, donor numbers plummeted. “There are so many people in need of a corneal transplant, Southern Eye Bank could not and would not close its doors.

Southern Eye Bank’s staff recovered ocular tissue primarily from south central and southwest Louisiana. The recovery, evaluation and distribution process was finally getting back to normal when Southern Eye Bank faced another crisis…Hurricane Rita.

Because flood waters and wind damage crippled the 3 story building Southern Eye Bank calls home in Metairie, Southern Eye Bank’s staff knew that they had to act fast if Rita was to hit the area. Staff received permits to enter Jefferson Parish to salvage records, computers and other precious items from the 60 year old organization’s history. Oltmann, who lives in Covington, remembers hanging hundreds of photographs and newspaper clippings on several makeshift clothing lines in the attempt to salvage what memories from the past she could. Overall, less than 30 photographs and a few dozen newspaper clippings were salvageable. In January, 2006 Southern Eye Bank returned to their Metairie location.

As Southern Eye Bank settled in to their “new-old” office, thoughts of the Louisiana Children’s Museum entered into the minds of the employees quite frequently. The brainchild of the late Dr. Oliver Dabazies, a former president of Southern Eye Bank’s Board of Trustees, showcases optical illusions, ocular anatomy, disease and care, as well as a miniature eye doctor’s office where kids can don scrubs and ‘perform’ a corneal transplant on an alligator. The exhibit, entitled Eye-to-Eye, took over one year of planning, designing and funding to become reality. It was feared to be lost until a very welcomed phone call was made by Julia Bland, Executive Director of the Louisiana Children’s Museum with good news. Thankfully, the 1,000 square foot exhibit survived the storm with very little damage.

There are now 80 eye-banks in the United States. All of whom share the same goal – to distribute corneal tissue to anyone in need of a sight-saving/restoring corneal transplant!

During Southern Eye Bank’s first year of operation, a massive education campaign about the need for eye donors was made to the public. Over 2,000 “pledge-cards” were obtained during the first 10 months and an additional 1,000 were received during the last two months. Currently, Southern Eye Bank has thousands of pledge cards on file but many of those who completed the donor card have moved to another state, changed addresses or have passed away. “Pledging to become an eye, tissue and organ donor is very easy, simply register at the DMV, via our website at or request a donor card from our office at 504-891-3937..

March is National Eye Donor Awareness Month. The Southern Eye Bank, a non-profit organization in metro New Orleans, has helped restore the vision of tens of approximately 35,000 people since 1947. This would have not been possible if not for the generosity of generous and selfless people in southern Louisiana. The need for corneal tissue has increased every year; however, the supply is never satisfied. To provide eye tissue for transplantation, research and education, the public needs to know there is a need. Without the assistance of the general public, patients in need of this precious gift are left to wait in pain and darkness for months and sometimes years. It is important to know that ANYONE CAN BE A DONOR, even if they had poor vision or cataracts. Spokeswoman, Colleen Oltmann, states “Pledge cards are available by calling the Southern Eye bank at (504) 891-3937, via internet on our website or you may give consent to donate your eyes when you renew your driver’s license. It is very important to discuss your intention to donate with your loved ones. Many families who have suffered the loss of a loved one are willing and capable of stepping beyond the bounds of grief to choose vision for another they will never know.” For more information on the EYE-DEAL gift, call the Southern Eye Bank today! Lecturers are available throughout the year for health fairs and educational seminars.

MARCH 2010

PRESS RELEASE For More Information Contact:

For Immediate Release Colleen Oltmann, Director of Education

Southern Eye Bank 504-891-3937


WASHINGTON, DC – The Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) announced today that Michigan’s District 6 Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) will proclaim March 2010 National Eye Donor Month. Mr. Upton, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a member of its Subcommittee on Health, has championed the cause of donation and particularly the needs of the nation’s eye banks. The Congressman was instrumental in helping pass H.R. 399, “The Organ Donation Improvement Act,” through the House of Representatives in 2003. Mr. Upton helped to ensure that the donation process includes and recognizes the contributions of all the partners in donation. The EBAA is proud to have Mr. Upton be the sponsor of Eye Donor Month for 2011, as it marks its semi-centennial of its opening. The EBAA looks forward to working with him in the future to continue to promote eye donation and the work of eye banks on a state and national level. National Eye Donor Month has been proclaimed every year since 1983 to raise awareness of the need to donate eyes. The EBAA proudly thanks Mr. Upton for his efforts to help in the mission to restore sight. The Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA), established in 1961, is the oldest transplant association in the nation. The EBAA is dedicated to the restoration of sight through the promotion and advancement of eye banking. It has led the transplantation field with the establishment of medical standards for the distribution of eyes and comprehensive training and certification programs for eye banking personnel. These standards have been used as models for other transplantation organizations. Member eye banks operate in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. These eye banks make possible more than 45,000 sight-restoring corneal transplants annually.

In Louisiana, more than 700 people had received corneal transplants in 2010. For more information on how you can become a potential donor, call Southern Eye Bank in Louisiana at 504-891-3937 or log on to the web-site at

# # # EBAA •1015 18th Street, NW, Suite 1010 • Washington, DC 20036 •

Southern Eye Bank 2701 Kingman Street Metairie, LA 70006

August 13th, 2012 |  Category: Uncategorized  | Edit this post