The Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) celebrates National Eye Donor Month every March. At Cornea Associates, we do the same because we believe in giving the restorative gift of sight.
Becoming an organ donor is one of the best things you can do to help your community because the gift goes so far. When it comes to the eye, corneas are recovered and transplanted to help patients with a variety of different eye diseases or conditions, but the rest of the eye can be used for important scientific research and education.
Data from the EBAA reports over 76,000 corneas were supplied for transplantation in 2014. Because the cornea is a clear, avascular tissue (meaning it has no blood supply), blood typing is not necessary when screening the tissue for viability. Certain highly-communicable diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis, might preclude a patient from donating, but otherwise just about anyone can donate and anyone can receive tissue.
Corneal tissue is typically recovered within 12 hours of a donor’s death. Once it has been established by the technician through inspection that there are no medical “rule-outs” that preclude the tissue from transplantation, the technician will go about recovering the cornea (or in some cases, the whole eye) before placing it in a proper storage medium to maintain its viability. The tissue is then evaluated along with the donor’s social-medical history before a medical director or their designee releases the tissue to a surgeon for transplantation. Corneas can be kept viable for up to fourteen days in storage, but are rarely “on the shelves” that long considering the demand for tissue. Because this process is so quick, there is no delay in making funeral arrangements or other hindrances to the donor’s family
While the identities of donors are not disclosed to recipients, eye banks use the same unique identification numbers assigned to each cornea to track the tissue from a donor to the patient they help. A patient may then write a letter, if they’re so inclined, to be passed along from the eye bank to the donor’s family.
By and large, cornea transplantation is very successful, with the restoration of vision in 95% of operations. The most common indications for corneal transplantation are injury or diseases such as keratoconus, Fuchs’ dystrophy, lattice dystrophy, and iridocorneal endothelial dystrophy. Any of these can cause a dramatic and disruptive compromise of a patient’s vision and have a heavy impact on their quality of life. Living tissue is also essential to bio-medical research and to education. Because of this, donation is extremely important and valuable.
For more resources or to become a donor, visit restoresight.org.