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All you need to know about Eye Donation

Category : 
Author : Dr Deepak Garg
After Keratoplasty

“Death is no more than passing from one room into the other. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room, I shall be able to see.” Hellen Keller, famous American deaf and blind author, disability rights advocate, and political activist.

These words hold true not just for Hellen Keller but for over 12 million blind people in India, of which 4 million are blind because of some condition of the cornea, the frontmost part of the eye. Normally, the cornea is clear and transparent, which allows the light to enter the eye and eventually get focused on the retina. There are a lot of conditions, infectious, inflammatory, genetic, or autoimmune, which turn this transparent layer into an opaque layer that makes the individual blind, as the light can no longer enter the eye. This leads to corneal blindness.

Hellen Keller was from the twentieth century when medicine was not as advanced as today. Moreover, the awareness about eye donation or corneal donation, in general, was less. Due to modern medical advancements, it is possible to transplant cornea and give sight to these corneal blind individuals by performing eye surgery.

It is possible for every human being to give the priceless gift of sight to another.

Awareness about eye donation

While awareness about eye donation is increasing it’s not enough. Internationally efforts are being made to make people provide more eye donation information to the general public.

Eye donation day

June 10th is eye donation day to increase awareness about eye donation.

National Eye Donation fortnight

25th August to September 8th is celebrated as the national eye donation fortnight.

Which part of the eye is donated?

The cornea is the frontmost layer of the eye. This is a transparent structure that allows light to enter the eye. When we talk about eye donation or eye transplant we basically use the cornea only.

What is Corneal Transplantation?

Cornea transplantation also sometimes referred to as eye transplantation is a surgery where a healthy cornea from a donor is used to replace a cornea that has been damaged or infected. The medical name for this procedure is Keratoplasty. Often, corneal transplant surgery is performed under local anaesthetic. The donor cornea is used to replace the diseased or damaged cornea during the process, and it is then sewn in place. Surgery for a corneal transplant has a high success rate and can help people who had trouble seeing well before. This technique can potentially change the lives of those with corneal disease.

Why is Eye Donation so important?

Donation of eyes is a kind deed that can help the blind or visually handicapped regain their vision. The only portion of the eye that can be transplanted is the cornea, its outermost layer. Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of corneas and a massive imbalance between supply and demand. According to WHO, every year, 20,000 people get corneal blindness, and the average eye pledging number is 57,000. However, the actual donation happening per year on average is 2,250 eyes. Thus, it becomes important to create awareness about eye donation.

Eye Donation Procedure

The procedure for donating an eye or corneal donation is simple. The cornea donor usually pledges to donate the eyes after passing away. This can be done by filling out a donor card, signing up online on an eye bank’s website, via a Non- Profit Organization that runs an eye bank, or just telling family members what they prefer. For the donor’s intentions to be carried out, discussing this choice with the donor’s family is crucial. Within six hours of the donor’s passing, the tissue donation should occur and then the corneas are extracted and taken to an eye bank, which will be processed before being used in a transplant.

In India, potential donors must inform their family members and make sure that they follow their wishes. It’s important because it’s the donor families that will give consent for the tissue donation at the time of their grief. They will also have to make the call to the eye bank at the time of making funeral arrangements.

Facts about Eye Donation

  • Eye donation involves donating and transplanting only the cornea and not the entire eye.
  • Eye donation after death – Eye donation is not possible if a person wishes to donate eyes while they are alive.
  • Time after death should not be more than 4-6 hours for eye donation.
  • No need to transport the cornea donor to the eye bank. Representatives from the nearest eye Bank will come to the donor’s residence.
  • One of the popular myths regarding eye donation is that it affects the funeral plans and disfigures the face of the donor. This is untrue in every way. The straightforward act of donating an eye has no adverse effects on the donor’s appearance or funeral plans, as removing the eye takes 15-20 mins.
  • Anyone can donate their eyes, regardless of age.
  • Even if someone hasn’t pledged their eyes, they can still donate them.
  • Blood is drawn from the eye donor (10 ml) in a tiny amount for testing.
  • The eye bank staff examines the eyes, and a skilled corneal surgeon uses the cornea for transplantation.
  • Non-profit organizations run eye banks. Eyes can’t be purchased. The waiting lists are carefully followed when patients are called in.
  • Both the donor’s and the recipient’s identities are kept secret.
  • Two people can receive sight from each person.
  • Eye donation is carried out by eye bank technicians or paramedical personnel
  • Most of the time the entire eye is removed. Sometimes only the cornea is removed.
  • The Eye tissue from donors is then stored safely and taken to the eye bank
  • The corneal tissues are then processed and stored

The cornea cannot be donated if the patient is found to have the following conditions:

  • HIV or AIDS.
  • Active Viral Hepatitis.
  • Encephalitis (Inflammation of the brain).
  • Retinoblastoma (Eye Cancer).
  • Septicemia (infection in the Bloodstream).
  • Active blood cancer or medical history of blood cancer
  • Any other active communicable diseases or infectious diseases
  • The reason for death is unknown.
  • Eye Bank receives a call more than 6 hours after the time of death.

In case there is a death in your family, and you want to donate their eyes, make sure you follow the steps mentioned below:

  • Turn off the fan/Air conditioner to prevent drying or eyes after death
  • Keep the donor’s eyelids closed and towel off the eyes.
  • Place a pillow beneath the tissue donor’s head to raise their head a little. This is to prevent dryness in the eyes after death.
  • As soon as you can, call the closest eye bank.
  • Keep the death certificate of the deceased handy.
  • The next of kin must give their written agreement for the eye donation in the presence of two witnesses.

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