VININGS, Ga. - It’s been 8 years since Ernie Franchel IV said good-bye to his father, and namesake, who helped build their Vinings family restaurant, Padriacs, with his own hands.
"Very energetic. He had a voice, that was like no other. Very loud, confident. He was just the best," recalls Franchell.
But in 2011, at 60, Ernie Franchell III suddenly slipped away.
"He had two blood clots he didn't know about. Just came out of nowhere, woke up one morning, both of them got in his lungs. He fell at home, and he was gone," says Franchell.
That's when, at the hospital, in the darkest moment of their lives, Ernie Franchell's widow, daughter Kelly and Ernie IV, got a phone call from the Georgia Eye Bank.
"And the rest is history. We made the right choice. My mom made the right choice. By answering the cellphone and staying on the phone. We donated his corneas to help give the gift of sight to two ladies," says Franchell.
Georgia Eye Bank CEO Eric Meinecke says eye donation -- can be the difference between blindness and vision, for someone losing their sight.
As the months passed after his dad's death, Ernie found himself wanting to do more, to pay tribute to his dad. He started a golf tournament to raise money for the Georgia Eye Bank. It worked, so well the golf tournament has become a yearly tradition and the Georgia Eye Bank's largest fundraiser.
"Now I'm celebrating with 130 plus people my dad's passing," says Franchell.
Donating your eyes after you die -- is simple, Meineke says. If you go to the Donate Life Georgia donor registry, you can choose whether you want to donate your eyes, tissues or organs, or all three. Ernie Franchell IV's family thinks they got the real gift here.
"It was like it was meant to be."
Each year, the Georgia Eye Bank helps about 1500 people restore or maintain their sight. It provides nearly 25 corneas a week for transplant in Georgia.