Most people are aware that hundreds of lives are saved every year by donated organs, such as hearts and kidneys. They may not realise that donated eyes can dramatically improve the quality of life for others.
The cornea is transplanted to help restore sight to people with cornea problems caused by eye disease, injury, or birth defects. Disease or injury can make the cornea cloudy or distorted, causing vision loss.
Almost anyone can be considered as an eye donor once they have passed away; however, there are some exemptions. To ensure that all donations are safe, the donor’s medical and life style history is assessed similar to blood donors, to protect the person receiving the cornea from infection.
Every year in the UK, the miracle of corneal transplantation helps to restore the sight of more than 3,500 blind and partially sighted people.
Eye donation – the facts and myth busting
- The eye is never transplanted whole
- After donation, our specialist team will ensure the donor maintains a natural appearance
- People with poor eyesight can still donate their corneas – many conditions that affect a person’s eyesight do not affect the corneas directly, meaning it can still be possible to donate
- You can donate your corneas up to 24 hours after you die and donation can take place after death in hospital, in hospices, or in funeral homes
- People with most types of cancer can still donate their corneas – the corneas do not contain blood vessels, eliminating the risk of transmitting most types of cancer
- Cornea donation does not delay any funeral arrangements, and our specialist nurses always speak to the family to see if there are considerations around someone’s faith, beliefs, or culture in respect to funeral plans.
Newcastle’s Eye Donation Team
The Eye Donation team is made up of two Nurse Specialists and one Retrieval Technician. We are based at the RVI and our service covers all of the regional hospitals, hospices, and palliative care units.
Our role is to facilitate the referral and retrieval of corneas in a sensitive and dignified manner.
We also provide teaching sessions and education around eye and tissue donation to help staff understand the importance of donation and help spread the awareness to increase donor activity.
The Cornea and Cornea Transplant
What is the cornea and what does it do?
The cornea is the clear outer layer at the front of the eyeball. It acts as a window to the eye.
The coloured iris and the pupil (the black dot in the centre of the iris) can be seen through the cornea.
The cornea helps to focus light rays on to the retina (the light-sensitive film at the back of the eye). This “picture” is then transmitted to the brain.
When the cornea is damaged, it can become less transparent, or its shape can change.
This can prevent light reaching the retina and causes the picture transmitted to the brain to be distorted or unclear.
What is a cornea transplant?
A cornea transplant is an operation to remove all or part of a damaged cornea and replace it with healthy donor tissue.
A cornea transplant is often referred to as keratoplasty or a corneal graft.
It can be used to improve sight, relieve pain, and treat severe infection or damage.
One of the most common reasons for a cornea transplant is a condition called keratoconus, which causes the cornea to change shape.