Cornea Donations Can Help Others Regain Sight
One organ donor can help up to eight people while one tissue donor can help up to 50 people. While we often hear of heart, lung and kidney transplants, the Mississippi Lions Eye Bank works to secure cornea donations.
After death, a person can donate the corneas of their eyes – the clear tissue protecting the front of the eye that is one of the most common transplants. More than 40,000 cornea transplants were completed last year, and 90% of those transplants were successful with people regaining clear vision again.
According to their website, The Mississippi Lions Eye Bank was founded in 1971 and is located in Flowood, Mississippi at 431 Katherine Drive. The nonprofit organization is funded by the Lions Sight Foundation of Mississippi. Most of their major fundraising comes from the Lions Club of Mississippi.
Paula Grey is a quality assurance coordinator at the Mississippi Lions Eye Bank, and the administrative assistant for Lions of Mississippi.
“The Lions Clubs were challenged by Helen Keller in 1925 to become ‘Knights of the Blind’ at their international convention,” Grey said. “Since then, it has been one of their main missions, helping the blind. They fund many projects, one of those being the eye bank.”
Since they are the only eye bank in Mississippi, they recover corneas and eye tissue all over the state. This leads the coordinators to travel for many recoveries.
At the Mississippi Lions Eye Bank, there are three recovery coordinators who take shifts being on call. From Jan. 1, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2019, the coordinators recovered 214 donors, 426 corneas, and 177 corneas were transplanted.
One of those coordinators is Kristie Green, who has been an employee at the Mississippi Lions Eye Bank for three years. She is passionate about working to help others. Green said she 48 hours on call, then 48 hours off. In a month, all three coordinators typically recover 15-25 corneas for donations.
“A typical 48 hours would consist of me taking calls from the Mississippi Organ Recover Agency, paperwork before a recovery, traveling to hospitals and funeral homes to recover corneas, the recovery process, and paperwork after recovery,” she said. “After recovery, I send blood off for serology testing. The cornea recovery process begins by doing full physical assessment of the body, followed by an ocular penlight exam.”
Upon recovery and transfer back to the office, the corneas then undergo a slit lap exam that examines four layers of the tissue. These layers include the epithelium, stroma, descemets, and the endothelium.
“Tissue then goes through a specular microscopy exam,” Green said. “This is where it counts the number of endothelial cells. There has to be a minimum of 2,500 cells for it to be suitable transplant tissue.”
The Mississippi Lions Eye Bank website said a corneal transplant is a surgical procedure which replaces the disc-shaped segment of an impaired cornea with a similarly shaped piece of healthy donor cornea.
For the doctors to receive a healthy cornea, the corneas have to be delivered to the hospitals within 14 days. Coordinators deliver the corneas locally in the Jackson, Mississippi area while they sometimes ship the corneas internationally.
If corneas do not meet the requirements for transplant, coordinators transfer them from an antibiotic solution to a long-term storage of glycerin. Once preserved in glycerin, they have a one year preservation.
They use these corneas for people who have glaucoma caused by pressure in the eye damaging the optic nerve.
Employees who work at the eye bank must have a medical background. All coordinators have gone through training to learn how to properly complete a successful recovery. Green went though three months of training, but has seen other coordinators train for six months. She believes someone has to want to help others to do this type of work.
To become an organ and tissue donor in Mississippi, sign up at the Mississippi Organ Donor Registry, add that you are a donor to your driver’s license, and tell your family you want to become a donor.
Having the family know your wishes will help the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency obtain medical history and records through the family. Without this information, the agency will not be able to pass cases to the eye bank. Anyone with an Apple device has an option to sign up using the health app.