When most people think of organ and tissue donation, they consider the donation of major organs, such as the heart, kidneys or liver, and often don’t realize the impact tissue donation — such as cornea donation — can have on improving life for the recipient.
Likewise, when many people consider eye surgery, they think of LASIK and other vision surgery to repair refractive errors or restore vision loss due to cataracts.
Cornea transplant can restore vision when the eye is too damaged or diseased to treat with other vision surgeries. The cornea is the clear, outermost layer of the eye. When it becomes scarred, clouded or damaged due to disease, blurred vision and even blindness may occur. With a corneal transplant, vision can be restored, improving quality of life for the recipient. Cornea donation is a sight-giving gift.
According to the Eye Bank Association of America, more than 110,000 cornea donations were reported in the U.S. in 2010, and more than 42,500 corneal transplants were performed in the U.S. Many U.S. eye banks also provide donated eye tissue for transplant in other countries, where corneal blindness is more prevalent, HIV and other transmittable disease run rampant, or where culture and religious restrictions prevent tissue donation.
Facts and information about the cornea and corneal disease from the National Eye Institute.
A Cornea Transplant Success Story
Elaine suffered from keratoconus, a progressive thinning of the cornea, which eventually resulted in her total loss of vision. She was unable to drive or perform daily tasks and activities. Her blindness left Elaine with little hope, and she suffered from depression. Several years ago, Elaine was the recipient of a cornea transplant. Since her surgery, her vision has been restored. She drivers license was reinstated, and she is now able to perform the daily tasks and favorite activities corneal blindness had taken away from her, including quilting. (Source: Kansas Eye Bank)
Other parts of the eye can be donated for transplant or graft, including the sclera and the conjunctiva. Individuals who have suffered severe burns to the whites of their eyes may undergo a graft to repair the damaged tissue. The whole globe of the eye can also be donated to research into eye conditions such as glaucoma, retinal disease,
diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and other sight disorders. Research made possible by eye donation advances the discovery of causes and effects of eye conditions, leading to development of new treatments and cures.
How to Become an Eye Donor
- Enroll in the online donor registry by visiting the Donate Life website in your state.
- Designate that you wish you be an organ and tissue donor when you apply for your drivers license. If you have a current license that does not
contain the donation symbol, take a moment to fill out the donor information on the back of your license. Be sure to write directly on the plastic.
- Inform your family and friends of your wishes to become a donor. This is the most important step in becoming an organ and tissue donor.