Ocular Donation – FAQ

What is the cornea?
The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer. It is the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye.

What is corneal blindness?
When the cornea becomes cloudy, light cannot penetrate the eye to reach the light-sensitive retina. Poor vision or blindness may result.

What is a corneal transplant?
A corneal transplant involves replacing a diseased or scarred cornea with a new one.

Can the whole eye be transplanted?
At this time the answer is no. Only the cornea or sclera can be transplanted. The entire eye may be used for research and education.

Why should eyes be donated?
There is no substitute for human tissue. The transplantation process depends upon the priceless gift of corneal donation from one human to another. Donated eyes are also needed for research and education.

Who can be a donor?
Anyone can. The great thing about corneal tissue is that everyone is a universal donor. Your blood type does not have to match. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what color your eyes are or how good your eyesight is. Aside from those suffering from infections or a few highly communicable diseases such as HIV or hepatitis, most people are suitable donors.

Will the quality of medical treatment be affected if one is a known donor?
No. Strict laws are in existence, which protect the potential donor. Legal guidelines must be followed before death can be certified. The physician certifying a patient’s death is not involved with the eye procurement or with the transplant.

Will the recipient be told who donated the corneas?
The gift of sight is made anonymously. Specific information about the donor family is not made available to the recipient. If they so choose, recipients can write anonymously to their donor family, in care of the eye bank, to express their thanks. The eye bank will pass along this communication.

Are there religious objections to eye, organ, or tissue donations?
No. Donation is an opportunity to help save a life or restore someone’s sight. Eye, organ, and tissue donation are consistent with the beliefs of major religions. Include your spiritual leader in your decision-making process.

Is there a fee charged for this donation?
No. It is illegal to buy or sell human eyes, organs and tissue. Any cost associated with eye procurement is absorbed by the eye bank placing the tissue.

How soon after a donation must a cornea be transplanted?
Recovery of the donor eye tissue takes place within hours of death. A corneal transplant can be performed up to 14 days after donation, but this usually occurs within 3-7 days.

What happens if corneas are not suitable for transplant?
Some medical conditions pose a problem for transplantation. An extensive review of the donor’s medical, family and social history is conducted, as well as detailed examination and testing of the donated corneas. Some donated eyes are unsuitable for transplantation; however, efforts are made to place this tissue with research and educational programs when and where appropriate.

How do research and education benefit from eye donation?
Research on glaucoma, retinal disease, eye complications of diabetes and other sight disorders help to advance the discovery of the cause and effects of these conditions. This can then lead to new treatments and cures.

What is an eye bank?
An eye bank is a non-profit organization that obtains, medically evaluates, and distributes eye tissue donated by caring individuals for use in transplantation, research, and education.

How does the eye bank ensure safe corneal tissue for transplantation?
The donated eyes and the donor’s medical and social history are evaluated by the eye bank in accordance with the Eye Bank Association of America’s (EBAA) Medical Standards, as well as with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. With the recipient’s safety in mind, only corneas that have met these strict evaluation guidelines are distributed for transplant use.

Why are the families of potential donors asked so quickly if they would like to donate? Can’t the question be asked at a later time?
We understand that losing a loved one is a most stressful and sorrowful time; however, to ensure that healthy cells in the cornea remain viable, the recovery must take place as soon as possible since the time limit for recovery is only a few hours.

How do I consent to donate my eyes?
Register to become an eye, organ, and tissue donor by signing up on your states Donor Registry. Make sure you speak to your loved ones about your decision.