It was 40 years ago when Mildred Giordano first made the 320-mile drive from her home in South Dakota to the University of Minnesota. She repeated the trip countless times over the years, by car and by plane, seeking treatment at the University’s Department of Ophthalmology for her deteriorating vision.
Giordano had been plagued by cold sores, an affliction caused by the herpes simplex virus, since her high school days. In rare instances, the herpes simplex virus also can attack the eyes and lead to corneal infection, which can result in scarring and loss of vision—even blindness in some cases.
Virus-related corneal infections had damaged Giordano’s eyesight, so in the mid-1970s, she received a corneal transplant at the University. Before that, she had had a conjunctival graft at the University to ease her pain and buy time until her transplant.
That corneal transplant gave Giordano more than 30 years of good vision—until macular degeneration developed in her left eye a few years ago. Over the past several months, the vision in her right eye has become compromised by macular degeneration as well.
“If you don’t have your vision, you really are handicapped,” she says. “And I decided to stipulate that the funds go to studying macular degeneration instead of corneal transplants because researchers have made a lot of strides with transplants.With macular degeneration, they still haven’t come up with all the answers.”
Giordano, who spent many years working for the Department of Agriculture, lived on her own until two years ago.When her worsening vision prevented her from driving, she moved into an assisted-living complex in Huron, South Dakota.
Giordano regularly receives books on tape from the South Dakota Service to the Blind and Visually Impaired. “I call it hearing material, not reading material,” she says. The employee who fills her orders has learned that Giordano likes biographies and high-quality love stories and often makes recommendations.
Although she now sees a doctor closer to home, Giordano remains extremely appreciative of the care she received over the years from University of Minnesota ophthalmologists John E. Harris, M.D.,William H. Knobloch, M.D., and Donald J. Doughman, M.D.
“Dr. Harris, who has passed away, was something like a country doctor,” she says. “Years ago he even gave me his home number. But when I called him at home once about a concern, he said, ‘Mildred, you’d better hop on a plane tomorrow. I can’t diagnose you over the phone.’ So that’s just what I did.”