For artist, the eyes have it

Professional+comic+book+artist+Phil+Hester+poses+for+a+portrait%2C+at+The+Iowa+Lions+Eye+Bank+in+Coralville%2C+Iowa+on+Tuesday%2C+Feb.+14%2C+2017.+Phil+Hester%2C+a+professional+comic+book+artist%2C+developed+severe+edema+and+an+abundance+of+guttata+which+necessitated+corneal+transplants+for+both+eyes.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FAnthony+Vazquez%29

Anthony Vazquez

Professional comic book artist Phil Hester poses for a portrait, at The Iowa Lions Eye Bank in Coralville, Iowa on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. Phil Hester, a professional comic book artist, developed severe edema and an abundance of guttata which necessitated corneal transplants for both eyes. (The Daily Iowan/Anthony Vazquez)

By Jenna Larson

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After two corneal transplants, comic-book artist Phil Hester can continue his career.

His journey as a comic-book artist started in high school, when he and his friends began drawing comics.

His art career continued at the University of Iowa, and after graduation, he worked with DC, Marvel, Aftershock and others, splitting his time between writing and drawing.

“You kind of [have] to be all over the place to make it,” Hester said.

When Hester started experiencing health problems in 2015 with obesity and blood-pressure issues, he was put on medication that had a side effect of light sensitivity.

“I was noticing every day that bright lights were so intense for me and my vision was very foggy,” he said.

Assuming it was the medication affecting his eyesight, Hester visited an optometrist, where he was told he had developed a moderate case of Fuchs’ dystrophy, a corneal disease that causes vision loss.

Having great experience with the UI Eye Care Clinic in the past, Hester called the clinic and scheduled an appointment.

“It was almost like a valet service,” he said. “They saw exactly what I needed to have done and walked me through the whole process.”

Hester was referred to UI Professor Kenneth Goins, an ophthalmologist at Iowa Lions Eye Bank.

“Phil had significant corneal edema and guttata formation in the visual axis or ‘line of sight,’” Goins said. “He spoke of how his poor vision impaired his work and average daily living activities.”

Before the transplant could take place, Hester had to use other treatments.

“I was on an eye-drop therapy for a while, but that was kind of like a holding strategy before the transplant could take place,” he said.

To prepare Hester for his transplants, Goins offered him several treatment options.

“The main treatment is surgical with endothelial keratoplasty,” Goins said. “Given that he had cataracts, cataract surgery was recommended as well.” 

Preoperative testing was done to examine the severity of corneal swelling and its impact on vision, as well as measurements on the eye that would allow for placement of an intraocular lens after cataract removal, he said.

Two corneal transplants took place, Hester said. The left eye was operated on in the summer of 2016 and the right eye in the fall of 2016.

“Once I had those transplants, immediately I could see better,” he said. “Even though I had one good eye and one bad eye [after the first transplant], I started working right away.”

After the surgery and follow-up appointments, Goins said Hester’s eyesight should return to normal.

“His vision has been restored to 20/20,” Goins said. “The long-term prognosis is excellent.”

Following both corneal transplants, Hester sent a letter of gratitude to the donor families, which sparked the attention of Deb Schuett, a family-services coordinator at Iowa Lions Eye Bank.

The letter Hester wrote was passed on by Schuett. One of her jobs is to link the recipients with the families of the donor through a letter written by the recipients.

“When [Phil] had his transplant last year, he wrote one of the most beautiful, touching, heartfelt letters that I have received from a recipient,” Schuett said.

Reading the letter, she said, Hester touched on some very important points mentioning that his career was dependent on his eyesight.

“I couldn’t imagine not doing it,” Hester said. “The idea of getting a gift like that and not expressing gratitude seems impossible to me.”

After forwarding the letter to the donor family, Schuett called Hester and asked if he would be interested in using his art in a holiday card the organization sends out every year, Schuett said.

“Of course Phil was so gracious,” she said. “He took it as a professional role.”

His artwork was of a superhero, relevant to Hester’s image of his donor being a superhero.

“He provided that and completed this on deadline the night before his second corneal transplant,” she said.

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