The gift of sight is precious, but it is a gift that most of us take for granted. Being able to restore someone's sight is a rare and wonderful thing, a miracle that takes place thousands of times each year. And it's all made possible by the generosity of eye donors, people like you, who pass along the incredible gift of sight.
What is a Cornea?
The cornea is the clear front "window" of the eye. The cornea is the main focusing element of the eye which transmits light to the interior of the eye allowing us to see clearly. If the cornea becomes cloudy from disease, injury or infection, vision will be drastically reduced which can lead to blindness.
What is a Cornea Transplant?
This is the surgical procedure which replaces the "window" segment of the impaired cornea with a healthy cornea. The first cornea transplant operation was performed in 1905 and today it is the most common type of transplant surgery. In the past thirty-five years, over half a million people in the United States have had their vision restored by a cornea transplant surgery.
Are Whole Eyes Transplanted?
No. The cornea or the "window" segment of the eye which is the size of a dime is the most commonly transplanted part of the eye. The sclera, or white part of the eye can also be preserved and is used in glaucoma or reconstructive surgeries and the remainder of the eye can be used for research and education. Research is also an important aspect of eye donation which studies the physiology and pathology of healthy and diseased eyes to help cure blinding diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Is There a Need for Donated Corneas?
There is no substitute for human tissue. The transplantation process depends upon the priceless gift of corneal donation from one person to the next. Without these precious gifts thousands of people will continue to live in darkness. In Hawai'i alone there is a need for approximately 150 corneas each year. As of December 31, 2004 over 1,200 people were waiting for a cornea transplant in the United States, 12 of whom were from Hawai'i. At the time there were also over 2,600 people already scheduled for upcoming surgery. Internationally, the need is even greater. Over 2,500 people are waiting on a one year waiting list in Australia and over 146 million people are awaiting transplants in China.
Who Can be an Eye Donor?
Anyone can be an eye donor. Even if you have poor eyesight, cataracts, diabetes, or other eye diseases. Your blood type doesn't have to match. Your eye color doesn't have to match. The great thing about corneal tissue is that everyone is a universal donor. Everyone can give! Even most health conditions would not necessarily prohibit you from being an eye donor unless you suffer from certain blood diseases, serious infections, transmissible nerve disease or a few highly communicable diseases like HIV and Hepatitis.
Can I Still Donate if I Have Cancer?
Yes. Individuals with cancer can still donate their eyes, except for those suffering from leukemia or have tumors inside the eye.
Can I Become an Eye Donor?
Remember, your legal next-of-kin's consent is required for donation! We encourage everyone to fill out a donor card but this is a decision that will ultimately be made by your legal next of kin: your spouse, your adult children, parents, closest living relative, or a duly appointed power of attorney.
The best way to make sure your wishes are carried out is by talking to your family. Signing a donor card or indicating your wish on your driver’s license is great, but only when someone looks in your wallet.