Imagine that one day you notice your vision is very blurry. You visit your local eye doctor thinking you probably just need glasses. You learn that you have a condition that affects the cornea, the clear outer layer on the front of the eye. The doctor tells you your cornea is damaged and glasses or contact lenses will not help you see clearly. The news is difficult to hear, but there is hope! Fortunately, you learn that your condition is treatable and that your damaged cornea can be removed and transplanted with a healthy clear cornea from a donor.
A corneal transplant is surgery to replace the damaged cornea with the cornea from a donor that has recently passed away. The donated cornea is procured and tested by a local eye bank, such as the Heartland Lions Eye Bank to ensure the safety of the tissue. Depending on the patient’s particular problem, either the entire cornea will be transplanted, or in many cases, only certain layers of the cornea will be transplanted. Full recovery of eyesight may take up to a year because of normal expected swelling that takes time to resolve. Some people notice significant vision improvement within days. Many people require glasses or contact lenses to achieve the best vision even after transplantation. Most people with successful transplants will have good vision for many years. Corneas are the most commonly used part of the eye used for transplantation, but the sclera, or white protective part of the eye, can also be used to repair a patient’s sclera, eardrum, nasal septum or gums.
Corneal transplants may be required in the case of eye diseases such as Fuch’s Dystrophy or keratoconus, or due to a corneal injury that has resulted in permanent scarring. Presently, more than 46,000 corneal transplants are performed in the U.S. every year, and is one of the most common transplants performed. Bates County has several recipients annually. Statistics vary, but the average success rate at one year is 80-90 percent, and 70-75 percent at 5 years. One reason for the extraordinary success rate is that matching blood types between donor and recipient is not necessary in most cases. The cornea is avascular, meaning it does not have blood vessels. Recipient rejection to the donor is much less likely than it would be with a vascular organ such as a heart or kidney.
Thankfully, many selfless individuals have committed to eye, organ and tissue donation. Bates County native Darin Wainscott of Butler, MO, donated his corneas to 2 different recipients, as well as several of his organs after suddenly passing away on February 28, 2013. Darin’s selfless act gave two people the gift of sight and saved the lives of at least four people. Their lives have been forever transformed due to his decision to become a donor.
Almost anyone between the ages of 2 and 75 can be an eye donor, regardless of poor vision, diabetes, or cancer. In fact, the only conditions that prevent eye donation are HIV or AIDS, active hepatitis, active syphilis, rabies, viral encephalitis, leukemia, active lymphoma or active meningitis. The simplest way to register to become an eye, organ and tissue donor is to put your name on your state’s donor registry. To register, visit www.missouriorgandonor.com or the Midwest Transplant Network website at www.mwtn.org, or call (573) 256-6646 for the answers to frequently asked questions! Next, let your friends and family know your wishes. Sign up today and let it be known that you wish to Donate Sight and Life! March is National Eye Donor month and April is National Donate Life month.
Susan H. Miller, O.D.
Giving Fore Living Committee Member
204 W. Chestnut