LAFAYETTE -- Gina Miller and Deborah Strych embraced and burst into tears when they met for the first time on Thursday morning,
In her right eye, Strych carries the cornea of Miller's boyfriend, Washington State Trooper Tony Radulescu, who was shot and killed during a traffic stop in February.
"I'm so thankful," Strych said, tears running down her face. "It's an unbelievable gift that you and Tony have given me."
"You give good hugs, like Tony did," Miller said. "I'm thankful that he was able to help you. He wanted to give back to a country that gave him such a good home."
The meeting of the Danville nurse and Miller at the Lafayette Hotel was made possible by SightLife, a nonprofit global health organization and eye bank with offices in Brisbane and Seattle. SightLife delivered Radulescu's cornea to ophthalmologist Dr. Naveen Chandra, who transplanted it onto Strych's eye.
Miller, a public records officer for the Washington State Patrol, met Radulescu three years ago at a fair in Puyallap, Wash. She said they had much in common and quickly became inseparable.
Strych, 56, is a nurse who works with low-income patients at Pittsburg Health Center.
In 2009, her eyesight began deteriorating because of irregular shaped corneas and complications from LASIK surgery. She had double vision, blurry vision and was seeing halos around lights. She could no longer drive at night or read text.
Special contact lenses helped but abrasions on her right cornea prevented her from wearing contacts in that eye.
Her failing vision was threatening to force her to retire early from her nursing job.
On Feb. 23, Radulescu, 44, pulled over a pickup truck on a highway in Kitsap County, Wash. A passenger in the van pulled out a gun and shot him.
Radulescu was pronounced dead after arriving at a Tacoma hospital. The suspected shooter, Jacob Blake, took his own life hours later as police closed in on him.
Being a registered organ donor, Radulescu's corneas and other tissues were harvested for use by people in need.
Five days after the fatal shooting, Radulescu's cornea was transplanted into Strych's right eye. Months later, while Strych was still healing, she received a letter from Miller who described Radulescu as her partner and protector and said it was important for him to give to people in need.
Radulescu was the epitome of the American dream, said Miller, 43. He had immigrated to the America from Romania as a teenager with his father. After high school, he served four years in the Army and fell in love with Washington State while stationed at Fort Lewis -- where his son, Erick Radulescu, is now an Army medic. He left active duty and became a trooper while continuing in the Army Reserves.
Miller said Radulescu was someone who had the gift of gab and was always smiling and laughing.
"It's been a trying year to say the least," Miller said. "I'm glad that even in Tony's passing, that something good has come out of it, that he is still able to help people."
Chandra, who also met with the donor and recipient, said he has done about 30 corneal transplants per year forthe past 12 years, but this was the first time he had met a loved one of a corneal recipient. He described it as a rare privilege.
Chandra said the donor pool for corneas is shrinking due to an aging population, stricter regulations on corneal donations, and the popularity of LASIK surgery, which removes people from the donor pool. Meanwhile, the demand is increasing because more people are living longer and needing corneal transplants.
At the hotel, Miller and Strych also worked on a floragraph of Radulescu, which will appear on a float in the Rose Bowl Parade. Miller and Strych will attend the parade as part of an event sponsored by DonateLife, a nonprofit committed to increasing organ, eye and tissue donation.
Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123.