It’s that time again! March is the Eye Bank Association of America’s National Eye Donor Month. We’ve written about this observance a couple of times, but feel it’s important to highlight it again every year because we understand how essential a service it is that eye and tissue donors provide to the community.
If you take a look at your driver’s license, you may notice a heart-shaped icon in the bottom right corner of your card. That indicates you’ve elected to be an organ donor. What most folks don’t know is that in the state of Texas, the registry for eye and tissue donation is separate from this initial election (as when checking that donor box on your driver’s license form). Registering as an organ donor, depending on how you do so, doesn’t automatically register you as an eye and tissue donor.
One of the things that sets cornea donation apart from other organs or tissues in terms of transplantation is that the cornea is an avascular (i.e., has no blood-supply) tissue. This means that the tissue doesn’t have to be “typed to match” a recipient the way one might expect a heart or kidney to be matched. What that means is that any healthy cornea can be transplanted in virtually any individual regardless of blood type, age, race, or other genetic exclusions. While the screening process for quality is just as rigorous for corneas as they are for any other tissue, this viability makes corneas so much more widely available so that there’s no “waiting list.”
If you’re a registered organ donor, but uncertain if you’re registered as an eye and tissue donor, visit donatelifetexas.org to learn more and register. If you’re interested in being an eye and tissue donor, but aren’t currently a registered organ donor, please consider registering with organdonor.gov, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, where you can learn more about the registration process and get involved.
Our talented team of physicians is performing corneal transplants on a near-daily basis between the seven of them. Though, admittedly those numbers have been decreasing with the advent of Corneal Collagen Cross-Linking for keratoconus patients, the need for eye and tissue donation is still incredibly high because of the over 80k annual corneal transplants in the U.S., CAT is still performing about 1 out of every 100.