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leslie_shapiro2It was the dream role of a lifetime!

Being cast as Maria in The Sound of Music was Leslie’s most exciting theatrical experience yet–and perhaps her most challenging. While performing to rave reviews, she spent most of her moments backstage flushing her left eye with a steroid solution to ease the blurriness. It was both an amazing and a very scary time for Leslie, who began to seriously wonder whether she was finally going to become blind.

Those worries about her vision started at age 10, when Leslie began having trouble reading the school blackboard. She was soon diagnosed with uveitis, an autoimmune disease. Despite visits to world-renowned health care facilities in Massachusetts, New York and Maryland, the cause of her uveitis was never determined. A regime of steroidal eye drops to treat the uveitis later caused a young Leslie to develop glaucoma in her right eye. Eventually, she required three right-eye and then two left-eye glaucoma surgeries–one, in fact, just two days after performing on stage in Dracula. Several years later, a diagnosis of cataracts in her left eye led to another successful surgery. Through it all, Leslie continued to achieve, stay active and pursue her passion for the stage.

While she was doing so in rehearsals and performances of The Sound of Music, Leslie’s left eye became blurry. Upon awakening each day, in fact, she initially had no vision in her left eye at all. Her ophthalmologist noticed problems with her cornea, and a transplant was recommended. But Leslie insisted that “the show must go on” and said she desperately wanted to finish The Sound of Music before receiving a transplant. She consulted her medical team, endured the steroidal eye drop flushes during her performances, and took her final bow as Maria in December 2008. In February 2009, her cornea was successfully transplanted and the curtain rose on her clearest vision yet.

Today Leslie offers words of encouragement to those nervous about their own cornea transplants. “It was an incredibly simple operation. There was no pain. I noticed greatly improved vision almost immediately, and I was back to my regular duties within a week,” she said. “I love yoga, and my blurry vision sometimes affected my balance during class. Now, that’s all changed.

“I give many thanks to my donor family,” she added. “I just cannot find the words for the amazing gift they’ve given to me. My vision no longer gets in my way of teaching and simply living my life and helping others. I now teach Zumba dance fitness classes and primetime fitness classes for seniors. Having my vision has helped me be, in the words of my four-year-old, an awesome Mom.”

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