National Donate Life Month: Corneal Tissue Transplants

April is National Donate Life Month, encouraging Americans to register to be organ, eye and tissue donors. While whole eye transplants are not currently possible, it is possible to donate corneal tissue to help restore the vision of those in need.  A corneal tissue transplant, or keratoplasty, is a procedure that helps restore the eyesight of over 50,000 people in the U.S. every year. Our doctors at OSM perform nearly 80 cornea transplants each year.

How corneal transplants work

The cornea is the clear, dome-like lens covering the pupil. It allows light to pass through and focus on the retina, allowing us to see. A clear, healthy cornea is required for good vision. During a corneal transplant, the damaged cornea is surgically removed and replaced with a cornea from a donor. This is the most common eye-related transplant.

Reasons for eye transplants

Those with corneal damage or injuries are qualified to receive tissue transplants to improve vision. Damage may be a result of many conditions, including:

  • Keratoconus, which causes the cornea to distort and bulge outward
  • Thinning, tearing, scarring or swelling of the cornea
  • Corneal ulcers not responding to other treatments and which can leave scars
  • Fuchs’ dystrophy, a hereditary condition that causes fluid buildup and clouding of the cornea

Who can donate?

Corneas used in transplants come from people who have died, and almost all people are eligible cornea donors, as age, eye color, blood type and eyesight are not factors for donation. Everyone is a universal donor for corneal tissue.

How eye donations help

Donating corneal tissue can be vision-saving or vision-restoring for the recipient patient. These transplants successfully restore the vision of recipients 90% of the time, and can also reduce pain and improve the appearance of unhealthy cornea. Additionally, while whole eyes cannot be used for transplants, they can be used for educational purposes and research, which can lead to the development of new treatments and cures.

To learn more about corneal transplants, check out our blog with corneal and external disease specialist, Dr. Christopher Chow. Our team at OSM strongly advocates for organ, eye and tissue donor registration as a way to contribute and give life and quality of life to our communities.