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Slain Man's Cornea Now Helps Widow See

Long Beach woman gets transplant six days after husband was fatally shot by unknown assailant.

April 20, 2006|Valerie Reitman | Times Staff Writer

The widow of a Long Beach slaying victim is now seeing through her late husband's eye.

On Friday, just six days after Richard Meza was shot dead in Long Beach, LoAnn Meza, 48, received his cornea in an operation at UCLA Medical Center.

"He loved me so much -- he still lives inside of me," Meza told reporters Wednesday, as she urged others to sign up to donate tissue and organs when they die. "I believe he's not gone away yet. He's still inside of me, in my eye."

Thanks to the replacement cornea, LoAnn Meza was able to see far more clearly the few hundred friends, relatives and bowling-league cohorts who turned out to pay tribute to Richard, 52, at his funeral Monday, not quite three days after the transplant.

She recalled one particularly vivid image: numerous white, red and black Verizon vans parked outside Forest Lawn mortuary in Cypress. They had brought dozens of her husband's colleagues from the phone company and its predecessor GTE, where he had worked as a lineman and repairman for nearly three decades.

Richard Meza had planned to retire in June. The couple met in a Long Beach City College English class not long after she and her family fled Vietnam. Married 24 years, they had planned to move to a house they were building on a 10-acre site in rural Virginia.

A "serious cat lover," in the words of Long Beach police spokeswoman Nancy Pratt, Richard Meza had been feeding strays, as he often did, near Anaheim and Walnut avenues about 11 p.m. April 8 when he was shot. When police arrived -- alerted by someone who heard the gunshots -- Meza was dead.

No arrest has been made.

Richard Meza had often joked to his wife and friends that he should give her one of his corneas, his widow recalled. By last fall, LoAnn Meza could no longer see well enough to drive to the grocery store, which she said greatly troubled her husband. The vision in her left eye had been deteriorating for about 15 years after complications from a procedure intended to cure near-sightedness. The procedure left her right eye's vision a little better, but it was still just 20/50.

A neighbor paying her a condolence call last week reminded her of her husband's wish. At the insistence of the friend, LoAnn Meza got in touch with Dr. Anthony Aldave, UCLA assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute. By then, the one-week window on cornea viability for transplant after a donor's death was nearly up. Aldave performed the operation Friday evening.

The next day, Aldave removed LoAnn Meza's eye patch. Though looking somber and worn, she said in a videotape of the procedure, "I'm so happy. This is a miracle in my life -- to have my vision back."

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