The Vision To Listen

Last Updated by Kealey Bultena on

When I hear the words “I’ll never forget” and “in Iowa City,” I fight the urge to roll my eyes. It’s not that I don’t like my grandpa’s stories. It’s just that I’ve heard them dozens of times – and that estimate may be conservative. The memories he recounts are often anchored in his teenage years, a time when he was going blind before becoming one of the youngest patients to have a corneal transplant.

I recently put together a story for SDPB with a woman who knows that two people can see because doctors were able to save her son’s corneas and transplant them. I’ve always known my grandpa had multiple corneal transplants, so it’s seemed almost routine. But this woman rightly found joy in knowing her son saved someone’s sight, and I began to consider how grateful I should be for my grandpa’s vision.

Roger Bultena says he was 13 years old when a doctor realized he had corneal dystrophy. At 15, the Lennox boy traveled to Iowa City and received a cutting-edge procedure to replace one of his corneas with one from a donor.

My grandpa agreed to let me record a conversation about his experience, but the man who talks to anyone, anywhere, speaks in a reserved fashion when I break out the microphone. Still he narrates a rare experience. I’ve heard about the sandbags that held his body still. I’ve been told about the beer a teenage Roger drank on doctors’ orders. But the oats in his ears? I guess I’d never bothered to wonder how he and his family figured out that a boy might have only a few years to see the world before it went dark.

This is not the whole story. Grandpa Roger doesn’t talk about the fact that he and his dad ran into a trucker at a stop on the way to the hospital for surgery; that man used his radio to convince other trucks to pull over so he could escort my grandpa across the prairie at top speeds. Gramps doesn’t mention how the clicking heels of a nurse drove him crazy as he lay weighted down to protect his fragile eye. He doesn’t note how much pure luck it was that his family happened to have a connection to one of the leading doctors in the field at the time. He also doesn’t detail the fact that he had a second cornea replaced as an adult in the 1970s and had each eye done one more time toward the end of the century.

The other part Grandpa Roger doesn’t mention on tape? How marvelous it is that he watched his own three boys grow up – the baby smiles, the basketball games and band concerts, the graduations. Then I came along. In one photo, Grandpa holds the two-year-old me and asks, “How big is Kealey?” You know the response. “So big!” He can see my arms stretched high into the air – proving our point then, but also proving mine now. He could see me. He could see my siblings and my cousins as we turned from toddlers to teenagers and beyond. Now he can see my little ones. What a gift – and one I’ve never bothered to consider until right this moment.

I take these stories about Iowa City and the sandbags and the beer for granted, but they’re actual pretty incredible. I may have heard my Grandpa Roger’s memories more often than I can count, but it seems it’s time for me to start listening. 

subscribe to sdpb email updates TileAd_Beatsupport_300x250.png food and cooking banner image learning blog link living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

The Latest From SDPB Radio News

Tech news, 'the cloud', and more

On todays TechRadio our panel talks about Lawmakers call on Amazon and Google to reconsider ban on domain fronting ....

Moment In Sound With Bo DePeña

In The Moment ... July 20, 2018 Show 383 Hour 1 Bo DePeña plays more than 100 shows a year across the country...

Native Film Showcase Returns To Rapid City

In The Moment ... July 19, 2018 Show 382 Hour 2 SDPB's Heather Benson joined In The Moment to talk about the third...

Getting The Right Band Instrument Into The Hands Of Kids

In The Moment ... July 19, 2018 Show 382 Hour 2 The South Dakota Bandmaster's hold their 7th Summer Symposium on...

Game, Fish and Parks Looks To Next Generation Outdoor Enthusiasts

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks department is bracing for a drop off in hunters and anglers as the baby boomer...

Don't Count Out Your Local Library For The Summer

In The Moment ... July 19, 2018 Show 382 Hour 2 If your kids are at a loss for things to do this summer, don't count...

The Danger Of Fake News

In The Moment ... July 19, 2018 Show 382 Hour 1 Fake news can mislead or entertain, damage reputations, and destroy...

Meet The Candidates - Doug Barthel

In The Moment ... July 19, 2018 Show 382 Hour 1 South Dakota Public Broadcasting introduces you to the candidates of...

Meet The Candidates - Tim Reed

In The Moment ... July 19, 2018 Show 382 Hour 1 South Dakota Public Broadcasting introduces you to the candidates of...

The Latest from NPR News

How Soon Is Soon Enough To Learn You Have Alzheimer's?

Only about half the people with Alzheimer's symptoms get a diagnosis, partly out of fear of an incurable decline...

GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: 'The President Was Manipulated By Vladimir Putin'

Pennsylvania Congressman Fitzpatrick served in the FBI and says he has full confidence in the US intelligence...

Scientists Search For Causes Of Preterm Birth And Better Ways To Test For Risk

Preterm birth, a leading cause of death in infants, remains stubbornly hard to prevent. Researchers are on the hunt...

Finding The Right Words To Help Rohingya Refugees

A group called Translators Without Borders is developing a glossary to help humanitarian workers in Bangladesh...

'Rescuing The Rescuers': Stranded Syrian White Helmets Evacuated By Israel

In a "Hail Mary" operation, the Israeli military evacuated hundreds of Syrian rescue volunteer workers to Jordan...

Trump Administration Releases Classified Warrants For FBI Wiretap Of Carter Page

Republicans claim the 412 pages reveal FBI bias in favor of Hillary Clinton; Democrats say the documents are...