Sacramento’s Father of Cornea Transplants Wins Prestigious International Award

SACRAMENTO, CA – Mark J. Mannis, the visionary Sacramento ophthalmologist who brought cornea transplants to the greater Sacramento Region more than 30 years ago, has been awarded the Cornea Society’s highest honor – the Castroviejo Medal, named in honor of Ramon Castroviejo, the father of modern corneal transplant surgery and the inspiration for the founding of the Cornea Society*.

Dr. Mannis, Medical Director for Sierra Donor Services Eye Bank, as well as professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science and director of the UC Davis Eye Center,** won the prestigious award for “his significant contributions.”

“Dr. Mannis is one of the contemporary giants in the field of cornea and external disease,” says Cornea Society President Christopher J. Rapuano. “He has tremendously advanced eye-banking and tissue-donation services, as well as ophthalmic medical education throughout the world – acting as a mentor to an entire generation of cornea specialists as a fellowship director and department chair. The field of cornea and external disease is a better because Mark has been one of our leaders for many years.”

Mannis’ accomplishments have greatly benefitted the Sacramento region, as well. Under his direction as Medical Director, Sierra Donor Services Eye Bank*** (the nonprofit agency serving Northern California and Nevada) is setting a record pace for cornea recoveries and transplants in the area this year.  In fact, it’s projected that 35% more corneas than in 2013 will be transplanted in the SDSEB region in 2014.

Beyond restoring sight to the vision-impaired, those transplants will result in nearly $23 million in total net benefits over the lifetime of the recipients in the greater Sacramento area, according to a six-month study undertaken by the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA).**** The study compared the medical cost of transplant procedures to the direct and indirect lifetime costs of the alternative – living with blindness or severe vision impairment.

With a corneal transplant (a one-hour procedure with a  success rate of more than 95%), an individual avoids the direct expenditures that come with vision loss, such as higher routine medical costs and long-term care costs, and the indirect costs of potential years of lost productivity to both the patients and their family caregivers. Eye disorders are the fifth costliest to the U.S. economy after heart disease, cancer, emotional disorders and pulmonary conditions. The EBAA study proves the value of the procedure and the economic benefit to the patient, family and society.

Those increased number of cornea transplants expected in 2014 also translate to direct federal and state government savings of nearly $10 million dollars. The EBAA study assumed full retirement at age 65, so the net indirect cost savings is small for these patients, but the per-capita lifetime net medical benefits of $67,500 for patients age 65 or greater receiving corneal transplants in 2013 in our area will save Medicare, Medicaid and patients here a combined $9.9 million dollars ($9,976,043).

“I have the best of all possible worlds… I’m the delivery person,” says Mannis.  “What could possibly be more gratifying than putting a cornea in, taking the patch off and witnessing the restoration of sight?  It’s a privilege.  So many other people do all the work — nurses, coordinators, eye bank technicians — and I get all the thanks and praise.  Without all of the many talented and compassionate staff involved, so many people would never have the chance at sight.  A team approach is important.  And it goes beyond techniques and surgery, it’s a humanitarian act, a gift from the donor to recipient.  That’s what I like about it.”

Mannis’s humanitarian efforts are legion as well.  His efforts to increase the number of high-quality ocular tissues available for transplant worldwide as well as his training of ophthalmologists and technicians in the latest corneal transplant and eye-banking methodologies, have enabled thousands of individuals with blinding eye diseases around the globe to receive the gift of sight.  Mannis frequently travels to underserved countries as part of the Flying Eye Hospital sponsored by ORBIS and FedEx Corp.

Most recently, in 2012, Dr. Mannis participated in a week long comprehensive skills exchange program aimed at strengthening the field of corneal surgery and raising awareness of eye care related conditions in El Salvador.  In the four days of surgery on the Flying Eye Hospital, Mannis performed 11 corneal transplants and provided surgical instruction to his Salvadorian assistants.  In addition, he lectured on corneal surgery in the airplane’s classroom.

“Many talented and compassionate people were involved in helping to give the people of Central America the gift of sight,” Mannis said. “We are all working to fight treatable and preventable blindness around the globe. Through the Flying Eye Hospital Program, we offered skills-exchange opportunities to a wide range of eye health care professionals, while focusing on the development of pediatric ophthalmology, an area of great need in El Salvador.”

Finally, under Dr. Mannis’ leadership, the UC Davis Eye Center has become one of the nation’s top academic centers that combines the very highest quality vision health care services with cutting-edge ophthalmic science for the treatment of all forms of medical and surgical eye disease.

“Dr. Mannis exemplifies UC Davis’ institutional commitment to combining academic excellence with social responsibility and leadership to transform health care,” says ?? of UC Davis Medical Center.


*Founded in 1975, the Cornea Society is an international society that promotes the exchange of information in cornea and external disease. With more than 700 members worldwide, the society fosters the exchange of information through scientific meetings, communications and its peer-reviewed journal. For more information, email

**UC Davis Health System is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country’s best medical schools, a 619-bed acute-care teaching hospital, a 1000-member physician’s practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children’s hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all. For more information, visit:
***In the fight against blindness and visual impairment, Sierra Donor Services Eye Bank recovers, evaluates, process and distributes donor eye tissue for sight-saving cornea transplants, reconstructive eye surgeries and research into cures for other eye disesases. Because of SDS Eye Bank’s commitment to our local communities, we are able to consistently provide life-enhancing tissue for transplant – ensuring that every person in need receives the Gift of Sight.

****EBAA commissioned the study to determine the economic impact of corneal transplants.  Researchers used previous years’ transplant numbers and census data to estimate total corneal transplants for the full 2013 calendar year. For a full copy of the report, please contact EBAA at