Saskatchewan man spends most of life looking through dead people’s eyes

Click to play video 'Saskatchewan cornea donee on healing process' Saskatchewan cornea donee on healing process
WATCH: Tyler Senga talks about the healing process after receiving three corneal transplants over his lifetime – Nov 14, 2020

WARNING: An image in this story may be disturbing to some people.

Tyler Senga has looked through other peoples’ eyes for most of his life.

The 55-year-old man has had three cornea transplants, with two on his right eye. Corneas lie directly in front of the pupil allowing in light for sight; but some people may need them replaced due to disease, degeneration, trauma, injury or infection.

Read more: Saskatchewan to launch new organ donor registry after coronavirus pressures end

“I developed what’s called keratoconus and what that is, basically your eye starts to bulge and get thin and then you kind of see everything like looking through carnival glass,” he said via Zoom in Regina.

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“I was probably around 18 or 19 (years old) before it got bad.

Senga said the worst his vision got to was 23/60, but with the transplants it’s peaked at 20/40.

“Which is incredible because it’s perception. It’s like if you didn’t know you had really bad eyes and all of a sudden you woke up with really good eyes. It’s a huge difference. But like for 20/40, to me, that’s perfect vision, comparatively,” Senga said.

“They say ‘every man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.’ So it’s different for what you are used to, to what you get. So for me, 20/40 might not be good for some people but to me, it’s incredible vision.”

A corneal transplant is a surgical procedure that uses tissue from a recently deceased person to replace another person’s cornea.

A photo of Tyler Senga’s eye after a cornea transplant procedure. Tyler Senga / Supplied

According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), cornea donations from the province rose 150 per cent in the past year to 125 in 2019-20.

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Senga has nothing but gratitude for those who donated their corneas to better his sight and life.

“Most of my life I’ve looked through other people’s eyes, literally, and … that’s not something that’s been lost on me. The gravity of that because somebody else’s loved one or somebody themself had donated it for me to be able to keep on with my life. Which is a huge sacrifice,” he said.

“When you’re gone, you’re gone. So for your organs to kind of keep living through somebody else, it really is incredible. And if not, what a waste.”

The Regina man said he’s never connected with the family of one of his donors.

“The first one, I think I know who the lady was or the girl was who passed away at the time and it was somebody that was in our neighbourhood, actually,” Senga said.

“I didn’t want to approach the family and … make them uncomfortable. I’ve gone through grieving. My daughter passed away so I don’t know if I would want somebody to come up to me and cold call something like that because you know in your heart what you’ve done already.”

Read more: Sask. man alive today because of organ donation would like to see more awareness

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These days, Senga works on Japanese and muscle cars as a mechanic but also deals in comic books with a collection at roughly 4,000.

“When you collect comics, a lot of it is grading because of the extreme values of comics nowadays. So you’ve got to have your grading eye to look for imperfections,” he said.

“That’s a big part of comics, is not just the reading of it or the art. It’s the valuation of it as well, too, because I deal in comics from like 30s to the mid-70s, so I do golden age and silver age and a lot of expensive comics. A lot of it’s the grading, so I need a good eye grading, which is very important.”

While his favourite superhero is Black Panther, Senga also has high praise for his eye surgeon.

“(Dr. Jeffrey Judelson) is an iron man. I’m a hard worker and I know a lot of hard workers. You couldn’t keep up to this guy all day long, every day,” Senga said.

“He’s like a mechanic’s mechanic, and what I mean by that is, I’m a dealership mechanic and I’m pretty damn good but there’s the odd cat walking around that is crazy good … heads above everybody else and that’s the kind of guy he is.

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“Sometimes in health systems, you have attributes and detriments. You have strong parts of the system and weak parts of the system. We, for whatever reason, are blessed with some incredible eye doctors, like world-class eye doctors in Saskatchewan.”

The SHA said there were 66 corneal transplants in the province in 2019-20 which amounted to a 27 per cent increase.