Sharyn Dowd

So that the good work can go on

Sharyn Dowd is a busy associate pastor, ministering to numerous church members and working in various mission activities.

Every day brings a set of challenges and ongoing involvement with community and outreach organizations. She constantly sees to the needs of others—checking on the sick, the bereaved, the impoverished, and those who are seeking community and connection.

Dowd knows very well how to take care of others in her multiple roles. She currently serves as Pastor for Caring and Serving Ministries at Decatur’s First Baptist Church. But during her second year in Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion PhD program in 1981, Dowd was diagnosed with bilateral keratoconus by specialists at the Emory Eye Center. She needed, at that point, for others to take care of her.

As her keratoconus progressed, Dowd was told she needed corneal transplants, a significant inconvenience for any student undergoing the rigors of graduate school, particularly for a student with limited funds. With financial help, first from the surgeon who dropped his fee and then from the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, she was able to cover the costs not covered by her student insurance. She was most grateful.

Dowd was able to go on with her studies and to an impressive career in academics as a professor of New Testament at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and Baylor University (Texas). While at Baylor, she was also a member of the pastoral staff of Calvary Baptist Church, where she was responsible for leading ministries in the church’s lower-income, racially mixed neighborhood. Life was fulfilling, and Dowd was able to make a difference to those she taught and ministered to throughout three decades of serving. Fast forward to 2013, and Dowd was again living in Atlanta. She developed severe dry eye problems that were not corrected by lubricating and medicated eye drops. The dryness was significant enough that she was in pain each day, and the pain limited her ability to wear contact lenses and therefore, to see.

At Emory, cornea specialist John Kim suggested that she see contact lens specialist Michael Ward about the possibility of scleral contact lenses. She did, and, as she says of the lenses, "they are rather expensive,” but “they have completely solved my eye problem."

"Dr. Dowd was becoming contact lens intolerant. Therefore, she was visually handicapped and incapable of functioning on a day-to-day level," says Ward. "With the new scleral lenses, she was again able to attain her normal level of activity. Keratoconus and corneal transplants affect the front curvature of the eye and therefore have significant impact on how light focuses into the eye. Specially designed contact lenses can substantially improve visual acuity beyond what is possible with spectacles. Sclera lenses are fluid-filled and can be used therapeutically to treat severe dryness as well as correct high degrees of irregular astigmatism. These lenses offer very good comfort and maximize a person's visual portential for conditions with irregular cornea shapes.

"I can say that had it not been for the successful transplants initially and the various specialized contact lenses that I have worn during the past 33 years, I would not have been able to pursue at 21-year career in New Testament scholarship and teaching. I am still able to read and write, for which I am thankful every day."

With the gift of good sight, given not once but many times over the past years, a remarkable human being has been able to continue her gift of ministering to others.

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