Lorie Gordon had always worn spectacles. But in her 20s, her eyes worsened to the point where she couldn't read a prescription bottle or see details in her son's faces. The mother of two boys had keratoconus, a condition that created a cone-shaped bulge in her left eye. Her sight deteriorated so rapidly that she needed a prescription for her glasses every six to eight months, and worried that failing eyesight would prevent her from working or driving.
After consulting her ophthalmologist, Gordon underwent a corneal transplant to get a healthy cornea. Now she can read again, take care of her sons and she kept her job as a teacher's assistant.
"I think it's a miracle," said Gordon, now age 49. "I'm able to see again and there's no price you can put on that."
More and more sight-restoring surgeries like Gordon's are happening each year. Nationwide, ophthalmologists performed more than 48,000 of these procedures in 2013, about 10,000 more than five years prior. As this need continues to increase, organ donors who provide the eye tissue that makes these sight-restoring operations possible will become even more important.
Often called the window of the eye, the cornea is the clear, smooth layer on the front of the eye that focuses light, allowing people to see. Sometimes the cornea becomes cloudy or rough due to an eye injury, infection or a medical condition, such as Fuchs' Dystrophy. A corneal transplant can help restore vision by replacing the damaged cornea with one from an organ donor.
Patients like Gordon receive donated corneas from the Eye Bank Association of America. The Eye Bank is the country's largest network for recovering, storing and distributing eye tissue and corneas for donation, relying on organ donors who sign up through their state licensure program or a donor registry. More than 95 percent of all corneal transplant operations will restore vision in the recipient, making corneal transplants some of the most successful types of transplantation in medicine, according to the Eye Bank.
"Corneal transplants have been able to restore vision to people who previously had no hope," said cornea specialist Stephanie Marioneaux, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Gordon's ophthalmologist. "They can drive again, go back to work and live more fully thanks to eye donors, whose legacy will forever include helping others regain the precious gift of sight."
For more information on becoming an eye donor, visit the U.S. Department of Health Human Services organ donation website, www.organdonor.gov.