Cornea Recipient, Mother of Organ Donor Meet for First Time Ahead of Rose Parade

A woman who received her sight back thanks to a cornea transplant got a chance to meet the mother of the 19-year-old organ donor for the first time on Thursday.

Haylee Ponte's life was cut short by a fatal asthma attack in 2015. But as an organ donor, she went on to save the lives of three other people and helped heal many others, according to organ transplant advocacy organization OneLegacy.

A woman who received a cornea transplant and the mother of the organ donor who provided it got a chance to meet for the first time in Pasadena on Dec. 27, 2018.

A woman who received a cornea transplant and the mother of the organ donor who provided it got a chance to meet for the first time in Pasadena on Dec. 27, 2018.

Janis Drexler of Riverside was rapidly losing her sight to Fuchs' corneal dystrophy when a cornea transplant restored her sight in her right eye.

The procedure, and the sight it gave her, has allowed Drexler to return to work, care for her elderly grandmother and will allow her to see her first grandchild, who is due to be born in February, she said.

"Haylee's gift to me has made it a much brighter day to look forward to, because my world was getting pretty gray," Drexler said.

Haylee Ponte's mother, Nancy Haylee, said he daughter enjoyed volunteering and planned to go into the medical field.

Donating her organs seemed right in line with her character, the mother said.

"She had a big heart. She always wanted to help everybody. She would give you her last dollar," Nancy Ponte said.

Her daughter never told the family she had signed up to be an organ donor, she said. But the mother said she wasn't surprised.

"With her going into the medical field, we knew that was what she would want," she said.

Only about four percent of organ recipients meet the families of their donors, according to OneLegacy.

More than 116,000 people are awaiting life-saving organ transplants, according to the group.

The organization will include Haylee Ponte's image as one of 44 flower-covered portraits it plans to display on its Rose Parade Float on New Year's Day.