As an organ donor, gifting your eyes to medicine and science after your death is a heroic act. You alone may save the eyesight of one or two people who need new corneas, or you may even help change the lives of millions of people who benefit from eye tissue research.
Cornea transplants are the most common use of donated eye tissue. Each year, nearly 47,000 cornea transplants are performed to restore vision in people with corneal injuries or keratoconus. But it is important to remember that other parts of the eye are equally vital in the mission to save sight.
In addition to the cornea, tissue from the retina, lens and other parts of the eye are necessary for scientists seeking to find the causes of and cures for eye disorders and diseases. Studying this donated tissue, researchers strive to develop new treatments and cures for diabetic eye disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
Who can be an eye donor?
Anyone can be an eye donor, regardless of age, race or medical history. At the time of death, medical professionals will determine whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation or research.
Some people wonder if their religion is opposed to organ, eye and tissue donation. Rest assured that most faiths support these donations as the ultimate act of charity. Check with your minister, pastor, rabbi, imam or other religious leader if you have questions.
How do you become an eye donor?
First, tell your family you want to be an eye donor when you die. Eye banks—the agencies that help get eye donations to medical and research institutions—will always ask your family if you told them you wanted to donate your organs. This is true even if you have an advance directive—legal documents that spell out your wishes for end-of-life care and other decisions.
In many states, you can sign a card at the driver's license bureau stating that you want to be an organ donor. You may specify whether you wish to donate your eyes, organs or other tissues.
To learn more about becoming a donor in your state, contact your area eye bank or the organ procurement organization (sometimes called OPO or OPA) for your region. They will explain how you can make your organ, eye and tissue donation wishes known.
If you choose to be an eye donor, you can be proud knowing you are helping to improve the quality of life for someone with little to no sight.