In November, we celebrate Eye Donation Month, a time to remind you that giving the gift of sight is something almost everyone can do. People’s lives are positively changed through eye donation.
We invited our partners at the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank to write a guest blog about eye donation this month.
What is Eye Donation?
Eye tissue donation is when someone decides to give the gift of sight upon their death. Specially trained recovery technicians from the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank, the local eye bank for Colorado and most of Wyoming, will recover the donated eye tissue from deceased donors.
The cornea is the eye tissue that is primarily recovered. It is the clear front part of the eye. If you wear contact lenses, they sit directly over your corneas. This amazing tissue controls 65-75% of the eye’s ability to focus light, so it has a big impact on a person’s ability to see.
The cornea is then transplanted to replace a living person’s damaged or nonfunctional cornea. The recipient can usually see in a day or two. Cornea transplant surgeries performed in the U.S. have a 98% success rate. The first successful transplant of any human tissue into another person was a cornea transplant in 1905.
Why Do We Need Eye Donors or Even Cornea Transplants?
Eye donors can give the gift of sight through eye donation. In the U.S. about 12% of people who are blind have corneal blindness. This can be due to disease or damage to their eyes that resulted in scars to their cornea. Cornea transplants can cure this type of blindness.
Since 1961, more than 2 million men, women and children worldwide have had their sight restored through corneal transplantation.
Cornea Transplants Give Recipients a New View on Life
An eye donor gives the gift of sight. For recipients, it is life changing. That was the case for Sue Mountain-Morgan, who was diagnosed with keratoconus — a form of corneal blindness — in her late teens.
Things appeared to have two edges to Sue, and she had no depth perception. Things like doors, table edges, and especially stairs or curbs were hard to see. Even big things like cars were hard to make out. When she was walking home from school one day, she stepped out in front of a car that she thought was far away. It was actually very close and hit her. Thankfully she suffered only minor injuries.
Sue’s vision declined as her condition progressed. But, when she was 36, she received a cornea transplant that changed her life. She was able to do things she had never done before, like learn to drive and get her driver license.
But the impact was bigger than that. “Without this surgery, I would not be able to have the job I’ve had for the last 33 years,” she said. “I would not have been able to see my daughter or my grandchildren.”
Sue said she often thinks about her donor and his wonderful gift to her.
“I still cry when I think about it,” she said. “I truly feel blessed that I was able to have this procedure. I would have been blind by now if I did not.”
You Can Help Cure Blindness
Sue’s story — like the stories of cornea recipients everywhere — is one of joy and gratitude, gratitude for the eye donor who made the choice to give the gift of sight to another.
Anyone can register to be an eye donor. Even people who are blind or have poor vision themselves can help cure another’s blindness through eye donation after death. Since only 12% of blindness in the U.S. is due to corneal blindness, the corneas from someone with other vision problems can still help others see.
If you are not already registered to be a donor, consider saying Yes to giving the gift of sight to another in need when you get or renew your driver license or state-issued ID card. You can also register your donation decision online at Donate Life Colorado. And don’t forget to talk to your family about how important donation is to you.