Yesterday, my dad had a cornea transplant. Today, we went back to the renowned Bascom Palmer Eye Institute for his follow-up appointment. While we were waiting for his surgeon to check out the success of the operation, I asked Dr. Palioura, a fellow at the Institute, about some of the details about cornea transplants and where those corneas come from.
She told me all corneas are “harvested” — that is, taken out of — cadavers within seven days of death. These are from people who have elected to be organ donors, a choice that is usually indicated on one’s driver’s license. The Institute uses cadaver corneas for tissue transplants, the operation my dad just had.
There are several key differences between donations of corneas versus organs. Did you know:
- Corneas are clear, and they are one of the few tissues of the body that don’t rely on blood for oxygen and nutrients. They draw oxygen from the air and nutrients from the liquid inside the eyeball.
- Because they don’t rely on blood, corneas can be stored for up to 14 days. They are usually used for transplants/grafts within five to seven days.
- Corneas can be harvested within seven days of death. Other organs need to be harvested immediately after death and used for transplant right away.
- While anyone of any age can be an organ donor, including tissue and corneas, the upper age range for use of corneas is about age 75.
- At the Institute, they prefer to match the age of the cornea donor to the age of the recipient, or get as close in age as they can.
- For other organs, generally the preference is for organs from younger donors to be transplanted into those who need a replacement. Matching blood types of donor and recipient is very important for the success of organ transplantation.
- Since corneas don’t use blood, matching blood type of the donor and recipient is not a requirement. If a recipient was having problems accepting cornea transplants after several tries, the Institute finds matching blood types can lead to a successful outcome.
- According to the American Transplant Foundation, the cornea is the most commonly transplanted tissue. More than 40,000 corneal transplants take place each year in the United States.
OrganDonor.gov: Information from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
DonateLife.net: Donate Life America is a not-for-profit alliance of national organizations committed to increasing organ, eye and tissue donation.
AmericanTransplantFoundation.org: The American Transplant Foundation is the only nonprofit in the country that provides financial assistance to the most vulnerable transplant patients and living donors by reimbursing them for lost wages after the surgery, and providing access to lifesaving medications.
To the special person who donated the cornea my dad just received, I offer a big “thank you” to you and your family for that great gift. Here’s hoping that more people are moved to make that choice to donate life and sight.