Posted by: courtneygrapperhaus | October 18, 2015

Eye Donation

eye donation2Do you remember the last time you went to get your Driver’s License renewed? Did they ask if you want to be an organ donor? When most people think of organ donation, the heart, liver and kidneys come to mind. But did you know that the eyes, along with skin, bones, heart valves and tendons, are transplantable? At this time, only corneas can be transplanted (the outermost thin, clear layer that covers the front of the eye). However, the rest of the eye tissue can be used for education and research purposes. 

If a registered donor dies, an eye bank receives a call. Within about 12 hours of the death, an eye bank will contact the next of kin to obtain consent and a medical-social history. If the eye is healthy enough to pass this stage, which most are, the eye bank technician will do a physical inspection of the donor and draws a blood sample to test for blood-borne diseases. If the donor passes the physical inspection and the blood tests are negative, the cornea is removed and transported to the eye bank laboratory where it is more closely evaluated. Then, an eye bank medical director will make a final determination and if the tissue is released the cornea is sealed, labeled and shipped to a transplant surgeon. Cornea tissue can be stored for up to 14 days, but most donor tissue is used much quicker than that. After someone receives a donor cornea, they may choose to write a letter to the donor’s family, even though the recipient has no information about the donor. Eye banks help to anonymously transfer these letters to the donor family.

Any remaining eye tissue or eyes that did not have a cornea that meets the donation criteria are sent to educational institutions and research facilities. Research on eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts is done on this tissue. This research can lead to new treatments and cures. Also, ophthalmology and other medical students can study the eye tissue as a part of their curriculum.

There is no cost to donate your eyes and almost everyone can donate, regardless of their blood type, if they have had previous eye diseases or wear glasses. Funerals for the donor are virtually no different from those of a non-donor. The funeral will not be delayed and the appearance of the deceased will not be effected. The exact numbers vary, but it is estimated that around 72,0000 corneal transplants take place each year in the U.S. Over 95% of transplant operations are successful and many are done on an out-patient basis. There is no substitute for a human cornea so donation is the only way to restore vision in someone with a need for a transplant.

There is a great History of Eye Donation available on the Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration website.


Eye Bank Association of America

Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration


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