Giving the gift of sight

Believe it or not, corneal transplants have been around since the late 1800s and the procedure has been carried out routinely since the 1960s. Almost any organ or tissue donor can donate their corneas, giving the blind or partially sighted the chance to see once again.

Eye donation involves donating just your corneas – not your iris (which is the coloured tissue at the front of the eye). The cornea is the transparent part that covers the front portion of the eye, it’s this area that allows light into the eye so that you can see. It’s a tiny part of the eye but is hugely important for thousands of cornea transplants each year. Sometimes called a keratoplasty, or a corneal graft, a cornea transplant could give someone back the gift of sight.

Since 1961, more than 1,800,000 men, women and children worldwide have had their sight restored through corneal transplantation. 4000 corneal grafts are carried out every year in the UK according to NHS Blood and Transplant and the eye banks are 21% below the level needed to supply hospitals.

When you register as an organ donor, you can choose to be a tissue donor too. Why not register as an organ and tissue donor today? The register is a permanent record of your wish to be a donor and can be updated at any time. The law did change in May last year to allow more people to save more lives. It will now be considered that you agree to become an organ/tissue donor when you die if you are over 18, if you have not opted out and if you are not in an excluded group. However, it is still worthwhile registering your decision so that it is officially declared and your family are aware.

Your corneas could be invaluable for saving someone’s sight. Most people are able to donate their corneas when they die. As with other tissue donations, even people who may be unable to donate their organs can usually become cornea donors. This is because not all of the restrictions that apply to organ donation are applicable to tissue donation. There is no age restriction for donating eyes, skin or bone.

  • You can donate corneas up to 24 hours after you die
  • People with most types of cancer can still donate their corneas
  • People with poor eyesight can still donate their corneas
  • Corneal donations won't delay a funeral or affect how the donor looks
People with poor eyesight can still donate their corneas
People with poor eyesight can still donate their corneas

Raising awareness, thanks to St. Wilfred's Hospice

St. Wilfred's Hospice

Recently, St. Wilfred's Hospice held a corneal donation awareness week, to let families learn more about the benefit of corneal donations. St. Wilfred's are based in Eastbourne and their aim is to transform end of life care for locals and the surrounding area. Covering an area of around 300 square miles, their expert teams strive to help people to live well until the end of their lives and to support their family and friends throughout that time.

They provide care in their 20-bed Inpatient Unit, through their Wellbeing service and, increasingly, to families in their own homes. They rely on voluntary gifts to support over 70% of their vital work. It costs just over £16,000 a day to provide their care and support services across the catchment area.

St. Wilfred's display on corneal transplants
St. Wilfred's display on corneal transplants

Team members of St. Wilfred's Hospice have kindly let us share the stories of their relatives Thom and Pam, who were aged 25 and 54 respectively when their transplants were carried out:

Katy's husband, Thom, had a cornea transplant nine years ago. He has an eye condition called keratoconus causing the cornea to become thin and floppy. This causes extreme short sightedness that cannot be corrected by glasses. A cornea transplant has enabled Thom to live a normal life. He said:

"I just want to say a massive thank you. It's passing on a gift to someone you don't know who will benefit hugely and change their life completely."

Jasmine's Nan, Pam, shares her story:

"I was suffering from very sore runny eyes and diagnosed with hereditary Fuch's dystrophy. I needed a cornea transplant to prevent me from losing my sight. I asked where the cornea came from, and the consultant explained corneas came from people who donate them after their death. I have since had a second transplant and my eyesight is very good. Without the generosity of these people, I would surely have lost my sight."

Tom had a corneal transplant at the age of 25   Pam had a corneal transplants 


 

Sources: Nature.com, NHS.ukNHSBT and St. Wilfred's Hospice

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