March is Eye Donor Awareness month. Of all the organs that can be donated, the cornea is one of the least widely known. The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer that is a clear dome-like window covering the front of the eye. It allows us to see as the light is passed through to the retina (the back part of our eye).
We go to bed every night assuming that when we wake up in the morning we’ll still be able to see the whole world. There are millions of people in the US that do not have that opportunity, for various reasons. One of these reasons is that they have a damaged or irregular cornea. A corneal transplant could literally change their entire outlook on life, by restoring their vision.
Recycling is a hot topic and a growing trend these days. It is good for the environment, it provides increased job opportunities, and allows us to reuse and remake new things out of old materials. Did you know that you can “recycle” corneas, too? As an organ donor, you are able to donate your corneas to someone in need of a cornea transplant! You would be responsible for helping another person to see! Sign up today at WWW.DONATELIFETEXAS.ORG.
Here are some facts and statistics about corneal donation and transplants:
The first successful human corneal transplant was performed in 1906 in what is now known as the Czech Republic. The first eye bank was established in Russia during the 1930s. Currently, there are over 48,000 corneal transplants done every year, making it the second-most common transplantation in the world.
According to the Eye Bank Association of America (EBBA), there have been more than 1,000,000 men, women, and children ranging in age from nine days to 100+ years that have had their sight restored by corneal transplants since 1961. Corneal transplants are successful 95 to 99 percent of the time in restoring the recipient’s vision.
When someone passes away, a search of the state donor registry is done to see if the deceased is a on the donor list. If not, then the donor’s spouse, next of kin, or close friend is given the opportunity to authorize the donation. The best thing you could do when signing up to become a donor, whether through the state donor registry or driver’s license bureau, is to tell your family. Even if you have signed an advance directive, it is the eye bank’s policy to ask the family whether the patient wished to be a donor.
According to the EBBA, cornea donation usually happens within 12 hours of death and is able to be transplanted within 3-5 days, but no more than 14 days after recovery. A donation is usually made by a deceased individual. There are very rare circumstances in which a donor may be living, such as a patient with an ocular tumor in the back of the eye, or a patient who is completely blind and has a healthy cornea. In those, or similar, instances, the cornea could be retrieved from a live donor.
There is no fee charged for donations because it is illegal to buy or sell human eyes, organs, and tissue. “Any cost associated with eye procurement is absorbed by the eye bank placing the tissue,” says the EBBA.
The donor profile is checked for things that would be regarded as dangerous for people who receive the tissue, such as HIV positive status or AIDS, and severe infectious problems such as sepsis or active hepatitis. Tissue from patients with severe forms of diabetes would be donated for research rather than corneal transplantation. Corneas are also evaluated for cell count and clarity of the tissue. The EBBA has stated, “The great thing about corneal tissue is that everyone is a universal donor. Your blood type does not have to match. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what color your eyes are, or how good your eyesight is." Aside from those suffering from infections or a few highly communicable diseases, most people are suitable donors. The typical ages accepted are from 2 to 70, however our team of physicians will not typically use tissue more than 10-20 years older than the recipient. This is increase the likelihood of the transplant remaining successful for the life of the patient.
Many recipients of corneas desire to express their thanks to the donor family. For privacy reasons, specific information about the donor family is not made available, but through the eye bank you can write anonymously to the donor family. The eye bank will make sure to pass along this letter so that families that have lost a member will at least know their losses were not in vain.