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  • Ophthalmologists Encourage Organ Donation to Help Restore Sight for Thousands

    Corneal transplants increase to 48,000 a year, returning priceless gift of vision to people suffering from eye injury or disease

    The number of corneal transplants needed to restore vision keeps growing each year. Nationwide, ophthalmologists performed more than 48,000 of these procedures in 2013, about 10,000 more than five years prior.1 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.

    In support of Eye Donor Awareness month this March, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is encouraging eye donation for corneal transplants by highlighting the importance of this life-changing surgery.  

    Often called the window of the eye, the cornea is the clear, smooth layer on the front of the eye that bends 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.

    Lorie Gordon needed a new cornea because of keratoconus, a condition in which the cornea bulges, causing distorted vision. Her sight deteriorated so rapidly in her left eye that she needed a prescription for her glasses every six to eight months, and worried that failing eyesight would prohibit her from driving and working. After consulting her ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions, she underwent a corneal transplant to get a healthy cornea. Now, Gordon still needs glasses, but she can see well enough to read books and magazines, and keep 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.”

    Patients like Gordon receive donated corneas from their local chapter of 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.

    For more information on corneal transplants, keratoconus and general eye health, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s www.geteyesmart.org website.

    About the American Academy of Ophthalmology

    The American Academy of Ophthalmology, headquartered in San Francisco, is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, serving more than 32,000 members worldwide.  The Academy’s mission is to advance the lifelong learning and professional interests of ophthalmologists to ensure that the public can obtain the best possible eye care. For more information, visit www.aao.org.

    The Academy is also a leading provider of eye care information to the public. The Academy's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit www.geteyesmart.org or www.ojossanos.org to learn more.

     

    [1] Eye Bank Association of America Statistical Report 2013, excludes grafts for research and training