What Is Corneal Donation?
Often, the best way to fix an injured or diseased cornea is to replace it with a healthy cornea from an eye donation. There is no artificial substitute for human corneas. The surgery, called keratoplasty, can help restore vision, alleviate pain, and improve the damaged eye’s appearance. It is successful in 95 to 99 percent of cases, according to the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA).
Who Can Donate?
The good news is — unlike donation of most other organs — almost anyone can be a corneal donor. Your blood type doesn’t have to match that of the recipient. You can be any age or gender. It doesn’t matter what color your eyes are — or even if your eyesight was good or bad. And a single corneal donor can restore sight for two people. However, you may be disqualified from donating corneas if you suffer from a highly communicable disease like HIV or hepatitis.
How Do I Become a Donor?
In many states, you can become an organ donor by checking a box on your driver’s license application. Some states allow you to specify that you are donating eyes. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has a national organ donor website, where you can select your state. You can also register as a corneal donor with the EBAA. Or you can visit UPMC.com/DonateLife to register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor.
Even if you’re already registered as an organ donor, you should inform your family and close friends of your wishes. The Eye Bank (the nonprofit organization that obtains and distributes eyes used in corneal transplants) will contact the donor’s family after death to obtain authorization. The more clearly you’ve discussed (or written down) your directives, the more quickly the donation can proceed.
Corneas can be recovered several hours after death and stored. The rest of the eye tissue may be used for research or educational purposes. The transplant can be performed up to 14 days after donation. Donating corneas will not affect funeral arrangements or the donor’s appearance.
How Corneal Transplantation Works
While looking through a microscope, the eye surgeon will remove all or part of the cornea and replace it with a healthy layer of donor cornea. The surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure under a local anesthetic. The procedure typically lasts under an hour. The eye will be numb, and the recipient can go home the same day.
Corneal transplants have been performed since 1905. Since 1961, more than 1.7 million people have received a successful corneal transplant from an eye donation. In 2016, nearly 83,000 corneal transplants were performed in the United States.
To register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor, visit UPMC.com/DonateLife. Organ donors have the potential to save up to eight lives and enhance the lives of 75 others, including giving the gift of sight.