Usually, when we think about eye donation, we think about corneal transplants. This is certainly a worthwhile cause, and since you can’t take your corneas (or any of your other vital organs) with you, it’s certainly something to consider when thinking about end-of-life wishes. However, many people may assume (or be certain) that they’re corneas won’t meet specifications for donation and that, therefore, they shouldn’t bother registering as an eye donor.
This, thankfully, is not the case. According to the Eye Bank Association of America, there are several uses for donated eyes aside from corneal transplant, and they’re all equally important to promoting and furthering eye health and research.
- Research and education: Many diseases affecting the cornea can temporarily or permanently disrupt vision. Corneal infections and injuries, ocular herpes, and diabetes can all cause vision loss. While eyes thus affected aren’t viable corneal transplant candidates, researchers need afflicted corneas to investigate the causes of these diseases and develop better treatments. They can also use affected corneas to research various possibilities for healing corneas. Non-transplantable corneas can also be used to train medical students, ophthalmologists and eye bank technicians in transplantation techniques and procedures.
- Glaucoma treatments: Because glaucoma results in increased fluid pressure in the eye, one treatment involves placing a shunt into the eye to allow fluid to drain. The shunt extends above the surface of the eye, requiring the operating surgeon to cover the end of the shunt with a small piece of tissue – to make blinking and eye movements more comfortable for the patient. The tissue that covers the end of the shunt is often taken from the corneas or sclera of donated eyes.
- Whole eye recoveries: If corneas are unusable for transplant, removing the whole eye may be an option. Whole, intact eyes are used by organizations and researchers who study diseases that cause blindness or vision loss in parts of the eye other than the cornea. If a cornea can’t be used for transplant, it’s possible to contact these organizations and arrange for recovery of the whole eye.
If you’re interested in becoming an eye donor, a decision we would heartily support, more information on becoming a donor, area eye banks and the process of donation for those donating and their loved ones is available at restoresight.org.