LIVINGSTON, Mont. – Justin and Emily Duffy raised a free spirited and kindhearted daughter whose life was cut too short but continues to live on through two cornea donations and the people in the community she touched in her short life.

On the evening of Sept. 23, 2020, 11-year-old Ella Duffy tragically died after being injured while riding in a side-by-side utility terrain vehicle at her family's home just outside of Livingston.

Livingston Fire and Rescue were the first to respond to the scene and did everything they could but were unable to save Ella from her injuries.

“They put us in a room, and someone had come in, and I’m not sure who it was, and they asked us about donating Ella’s heart valves and corneas,” Emily Duffy said. “Justin and I weren’t even looking at each other and just both simultaneously said, ‘Yes,’ like it was a no-brainer.”

The staff at the Franzen-Davis Funeral Home ensured non-profit eye bank SightLife could recover the corneal tissue in a timely manner, which helps improve outcomes of corneal transplant.

According to SightLife Interim Chief Executive Officer Jim McCorkle more than 50,000 people annually benefit from life-transforming, sight-restoring corneal transplants in the United States.

SightLife has resources for both cornea donor families and recipients and will facilitate anonymous communication of sharing stories from a donor family by writing a letter to their loved one’s cornea recipient.

The decision to write to a cornea recipient is a personal one and entirely up to the donor family.

People who have had their sight restored through a corneal transplant often feel compelled to share their story to show appreciation and raise awareness of the life-transforming impact of donation; while for donor families, many find that sharing their loved one’s story brings them comfort while grieving the loss.

Helena resident Ann Olson has received two corneal transplants herself and said the emotions feel bitter-sweet.

“Just the thoughts of a person that I didn’t even know were weighed heavily with me, I was so thankful and grateful, but I was also really sad, and they will always hold a special place in my heart and they’re a part of me now,” Olson said.

Emily and Justin Duffy describe their daughter Ella as a witty, truthful, kind and giving person who enjoyed hunting with her father, loving her sister Alivia and putting a smile on everyone’s face while acting in a school play as the Queen of Hearts in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

“Ella always would run around with me and go out hunting with me… or you know I run hound dogs so that was kind of a big thing for her and I,” Justin Duffy said.

In her now empty room, three of her Montana State Houndsmen Association trophies are showcased along with an untouched painting on the floor in the corner of her room, a few painted inspirational rocks on her windowsill and a green slime splatter on her overhead light and ceiling fan which reminds Emily of her creative and inspirational daughter.

“It wasn’t for nothing like she’s continuing to help people, she definitely was not done you know she loved helping people and it was some type of comfort for sure, and it makes you proud, there’s definitely a sense of pride that goes along with it,” Emily and Justin Duffy said.

Since 1983, every November is known as Eye Donation Month which marks an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the 12.7 million people worldwide suffering from blindness that can be restored with a corneal transplant.

You can find more information on how to register to be an organ donor and resources from non-profit eye bank SightLife here and their mission to eliminate corneal blindness by 2040.

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