#BeLikeMakala: A Donation Champion’s Legacy Lives On

#BeLikeMakala: A Donation Champion’s Legacy Lives On

Makala Ashmar Posthumously Wins EBAA’s 2021 Crystal Cornea Award

We are proud to announce that SightLife supporter and advocate, Makala Ashmar, has been posthumously named the winner of the 2021 Crystal Cornea Award, which the Eye Bank Association of America presents annually to an individual or organization serving the cause of cornea donation and sight restoration in the U.S.

“The Board was impressed by Makala’s passion for educating the public about cornea donation, and for her advocacy work,” said Kevin Corcoran, EBAA President and CEO. “It is an honor to recognize Makala with this prestigious award as a tribute to [her] dedication and effort in furthering our shared mission of restoring sight worldwide.”

Makala’s passionate, impactful advocacy for cornea donation began shortly after losing her father, Samir, who gave the selfless gift of sight in 2014. As a donor family, she saw how partnering with SightLife through the donation process supported her own family’s grieving journey.

It soon became clear to Makala that her personal story and advocacy skills could raise awareness of the critical importance of donation both locally in Pennsylvania and nationally – ensuring more donor families and transplant recipients experience the renewed hope and healing that often come with organ, eye, and tissue donation.

Makala’s contributions are significant and wide-ranging. As part of her work with U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent, she created a cornea donation champion in Congress, which proved critical during conversations about eye bank reforms proposed at the federal level.  

In addition, she coordinated local media coverage of the impact of donation and SightLife’s work, wrote an op-ed on the importance of donation, volunteered as a Lehigh Valley Ambassador for Organ and Tissue Donation, joined countless awareness and philanthropic events, co-hosted SightLife eye bank tours and visits with individuals ranging from elected political officials to local high school students, and so much more.

In 2018, Makala was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. During her courageous two-year battle, she kept in touch with her friends at SightLife – often expressing her concerns that medical trials would make her ineligible for donation.

“She was a champion for donation until her own untimely passing last September, when she, like her father and sister before her, gave the gift of sight to two people in need,” said Dena Gabel, SightLife Partner Relations Regional Manager and friend. “Her dedication to our mission was the epitome of selflessness and honoring her wish to donate was SightLife’s and my own true privilege.”

While SightLife is devastated by the loss of Makala, we are proud that her legacy lives on not only through the gift of sight, but also now through the EBAA’s Crystal Cornea Award. The SightLife team, as well as many people close to Makala, will continue our work in her memory and honor – raising awareness of organ, eye, and tissue donation’s transformative impact throughout the communities we serve.

In honor of her legacy, we encourage you to #BeLikeMakala – having the courage to choose generosity in the face of overwhelming tragedy. 


Please enjoy this short tribute video in honor of Makala’s memory and impact.