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Thanks to the constant advancement of medical technology, even tried-and true procedures like corneal transplantation are continuously improved, making the dream of restored vision a lasting reality for tens of thousands of people in the United States each year. But the talented medical professionals who perform this life-altering procedure actually are some of the last players in the process. Before they can work their miracles, a generous and compassionate family must turn their loss into another's priceless gift.

Families of donors and the recipients of donated tissue - even without ever meeting - form a unique and lasting bond and often feel moved to share that with world. The Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley is honored to be your source for information on the medical technology that is changing lives, the inspiring stories of the people who make such change possible and the expressions of thanks from grateful benefactors.

What is Corneal Transplantation?

The cornea is the most frequently transplanted part of the human body, and more than 95 percent of cornea transplants performed in the United States are successful.

What is a cornea and what is a corneal transplant?

transplant-cornea

The cornea is the front clear part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil and anterior chamber. Together with the lens, the cornea refracts light, accounting for approximately two-thirds of the eye’s total optical power. It imparts the greatest focusing power of all the ocular media. The cornea is composed of five distinguishable layers: epithelium, Bowman’s membrane, the stroma, Descemet’s membrane and the endothelium.

A corneal transplant, also known as corneal grafting, is a surgical procedure that replaces a damaged cornea with a donor cornea either in its entirety (penetrating keratoplasty) or in part (lamellar keratoplasty). If the cornea is injured, it may become swollen or scarred, and its smoothness and clarity may be lost. Scars, swelling or an irregular shape can cause the cornea to scatter or distort light, resulting in glare or blurred vision.

What happens before the transplant?

In most cases, the patient will consult with his or her ophthalmologist for an examination prior to the surgery. During the exam: 

  •   The eye is examined and diagnosed
  •   Different treatment options, as well as the risks and benefits of these options, are discussed
  •   A physical examination and other lab tests, such as blood work and X-rays, may be performed
  •   A date, time and location will be set

The surgery only takes place when the very best corresponding donor tissue is found.

Before a donor cornea is released for transplant, the eye bank performs serological screening and ocular evaluation. Usually the wait for a donor cornea is short. Most eye banks are able to provide tissue for transplant surgery scheduled in advance for a specific day.

What can you expect from the transplant?

This is a painless procedure and is often an outpatient surgery. The patient is given a brief physical examination and is then taken to the operating room. Once inside the operating room, the patient is given either general anesthesia or local anesthesia and a sedative. The ophthalmologist carefully removes the damaged or diseased cornea. The donor cornea is then brought into the surgical field and maneuvered into place with forceps, and the clear donor cornea is sewn into place. When the operation is over, the ophthalmologist will usually place a shield over the eye that has just received the transplanted cornea. Because there are no blood vessels in the cornea, rejection of the new cornea is very rare.

Why would you need a transplant?

People need transplants for many reasons. Some infants are born with congenital birth defects. Other people suffer blunt injuries, burns or infections of the eye that damage one or both corneas. Most people suffer from a variety of ocular diseases that affect the corneas. A disease may cause the cornea to become clouded and distorted in shape. When the cornea is clouded, no light can pass through and blindness sets in.

A corneal transplant is needed if:

  •   Vision cannot be corrected satisfactorily with eyeglasses or contact lenses
  •   Painful swelling cannot be relieved by medications or special contact lenses
  •   What could have caused the need for a transplant?
  •   Corneal failure after other eye surgery, such as cataract surgery
  •   Keratoconus, a steep curving of the cornea
  •   Hereditary corneal failure, such as Fuchs’ dystrophy
  •   Scarring after infections, especially after herpes
  •   Rejection after a first corneal transplant
  •   Scarring after injury

Tell Us Your Gift of Sight Story

We need your help in communicating the importance of cornea transplantation. After all, some of the best reasons for going through the procedure or registering to be a donor come from people who've already experienced the life-changing benefits of corneal transplantation.

Your experience may be highlighted on the Eye Bank's website, in brochures or at small group forums, as well as in radio, television and print messages. The Eye Bank staff works closely with all those who volunteer their personal stories.

To share your story, please fill in the fields below or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in our Family Letters Division, who will interview you and review your story prior to publication. Max can be reached at 1-800-743-6667.

Thank you!

Send a “Thank You” to Your Donor’s Family

As a corneal recipient, you may wish to communicate with your donor's family. Donor families do appreciate letters and often find comfort in receiving them. The Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley protects the confidentiality of all recipients and donor families, but we do encourage and facilitate correspondence between recipients and donor family members.

If you would like to write to your donor's family, please use the following guidelines, which were developed by the National Donor Family Council:

  • Includes first names only
  • Do not reveal your address, city, phone number or the name of your physician
  • Acknowledge the donor family's loss and thank them for their gift
  • Share information on your marital status, children, grandchildren, your job or occupation, hobbies, etc.

Allow extra mailing time

Please allow extra time for your card or letter to reach the donor’s family. Once the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley receives your card or letter, we will review it for confidentiality purposes only and then forward it to the donor family.

Will you hear from the donor family?

You may or may not hear from the family of your donor. Please remember that all donor families have experienced a terrible loss. While some may respond immediately, others may find it too difficult.

Mailing your card or letter

  • Place your card or letter in an unsealed envelope.
  • On a separate piece of paper, please write your name, address and date of your transplant.
  • Place the letter and the paper in another envelope and seal it.
  • Mail to:
    Donor Family/Recipient Services
    Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley
    401 North 3rd Street
    Suite 305
    Philadelphia, PA 19123

You can also honor your donor hero by donating in his or her name to the Eye Bank through our Donor Heroes program.

For Families of Donors

All of us at the Lions Eye Bank of Delaware Valley hope your family knows just how much your loved one’s gift of organ donation has meant to people in need and their families. But even that knowledge sometimes is not enough and families feel a need to share–and benefit greatly from sharing–more about a special person they’ve lost. With that in mind, the pages within offer the option to pay tribute to a donor or even contact recipients of his or her extraordinary gift.

Also, if you are having trouble coping with your loss, there are services available to you free of charge. Please feel free to call our Donor Family Services at 1-800-743-6667 or contact one of the following for assistance:

* National Donor Family Council
c/o National Kidney Foundation, Inc.
30 East 33rd Street
New York, NY 10016
1-800-622-9010
http://www.kidney.org

* Family Support Services
c/o Gift of Life Donor Program
401 North 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
1-800-543-6391

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