How can I become an eye donor?
Becoming and eye donor is a simple and easy process. Just follow this link to the Legacy Tissue Registry to get started.
What is an eye bank?
An eye bank obtains, medically evaluates and distributes eyes donated by caring individuals for use in corneal transplantation, research, and education. Eye banks are non-profit organizations.
What is the cornea?
The cornea is the clear tissue covering the front of the eye. It is the main focusing element of the eye. Vision will be dramatically reduced if the cornea becomes cloudy from disease, injury or infection. To learn more about eye anatomy and disorders, visit our interactive education section.
What is corneal blindness?
Corneal blindness is a disorder that results from the cornea becoming clouded, making a person blind. This condition can result from a variety of diseases, injury or infection. To learn more about eye anatomy and disorders, visit our interactive education section.
What is a corneal transplant?
This is a surgical procedure that replaces a disc-shaped segment of an impaired cornea with a similarly shaped piece of a healthy donor cornea.
Is the whole eye transplanted?
No. Only the cornea can be transplanted. The entire eye may be used for research and education.
How prevalent is corneal transplantation?
Corneal transplant is one of the most frequently performed human transplant procedures. Since 1961, more than 700,000 corneal transplants have been performed, restoring sight to men, women, and children ranging in age from nine days to 103 years.
How successful is corneal transplantation?
Over 90% of all corneal transplant operations successfully restore the corneal recipient’s vision.
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 the next. Donated human eyes and corneal tissue are used for research, education, and transplantation.
Who can be a donor?
Anyone can. Cataracts, poor eyesight, or age do not prevent you from being a donor. It is important for individuals wanting to be donors to inform family members of their wishes.
Will the quality of medical treatment be affected if one is a known donor?
No. Strict laws exist that 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 available to the recipient. They eye bank will convey a recipient’s thanks to the donor family.
If a person has already signed a donor card or a drivers license, how can they be sure that their wishes regarding donation will be respected?
How great is the need for corneas?
Although more than 46,000 corneal transplants were performed last year, the need for corneal tissue is never satisfied. To date, the use of artificial tissue for transplantation has been unsuccessful.
Are there religious objections to eye, organ, or tissue donations?
Is there a fee charged for this donation?
No. It is illegal to buy or sell human eyes, organs, and tissues. Any costs associated with eye procurement are absorbed by the eye bank placing the tissue.
Is there any delay in funeral arrangements?
No. Eye tissue procurement is performed within hours of death. Families may proceed with funeral arrangements without delay or interruption.
Will eye donation affect the appearance of the donor?
No. Great care is taken to preserve the donor’s appearance. Funeral arrangements, including a viewing if desired, may proceed as scheduled.
What happens if corneas are not suitable for transplant?
Donors and eyes are carefully evaluated. Corneas determined as unsuitable for transplant may be used for medical research and teaching.
How do research and education benefit from eye donation?
Research on glaucoma, retinal disease, eye complications of diabetes and other sight disorders helps to advance the discovery of the cause and effects of these conditions. This then leads to new treatments and cures.
How does the eye bank ensure safe corneal tissue for transplantation?
The donated eyes and the donor’s medical history are evaluated by the eye bank in accordance with the Eye Bank Association of America’s (EBAA) strict Medical Standards. EBAA provides standards for eye banks to use in training personnel to evaluate donor eyes.
For Healthcare Professionals
Does cancer rule out any potential donation?
No. Although any type of cancer is a rule-out for organ and tissue donation, the Alabama Eye Bank (AEB) can use corneas from most cancer patients for transplant. Only lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma patients may not donate corneas for transplantation, although the whole eyes are routinely used for research and education from donors in Jefferson County.
Does poor vision, caused by diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma, rule out potential eye donation?
Not normally. Only patients who have had surgery on the anterior portion of their eyes (for example, lasik, radial keratotomy or other refractive procedures) cannot donate their corneas for transplant. The cornea, the part of the eye that is most often transplanted, is not affected by most diseases that cause poor vision. Even a donor who was legally blind can restore 20/20 vision to a recipient in need.
If the family consents, what do we do next?
The first thing is to call the AEB back and let them know the next-of-kin has agreed to donate so arrangements may be made to recover the tissue. We suggest the following be done prior to the AEB technician’s arrival:
- Elevate the donor’s upper body and head about thirty degrees.
- Close the eyelids to restrict drying of the eyes.
- Place crushed ice in baggies or gloves over the closed lids.
Do I approach the family, or do you come here to speak to them?
Each year, the state of Alabama records more than 40,000 deaths, averaging over 100 per day. Because of this, it is virtually impossible for the AEB staff to personally counsel the family of every person who dies in Alabama. Over the last three decades, many healthcare and other professionals who support eye donation have distinguished themselves by successfully counseling families for eye donation.
To help provide the Gift of Sight, the AEB continues to rely upon their proven success. Of course, our staff is available to you and to the next-of-kin to answer questions about eye donation.
Do I have to be a “Designated Requestor” to ask for eye donation?
No. The Conditions of Participation (COP) specifically state that a person must complete Designated Requestor training to counsel the family of potential organ donors. The Alabama Organ Center (AOC) is contracted to recover tissues for another organization, and they choose to use the same Designated Requestors to counsel for tissue.
Very few patients who expire in Alabama meet the conditions necessary for organ donation. The regulation also states that the organizations responsible for the recovery of tissue and eyes may establish their own policies for determining who counsels the families of those patients. To this end, the Eye Bank prefers to include all nurses in asking for donation, a proven and highly successful method (we have ranked among the top 10 eye banks in the world for the past two decades in terms of tissues recovered).
Why do I have to answer the same medical questions with the AOC and AEB?
The criteria for organ, tissue and eye donation vary dramatically.
In order to recover the highest quality eye tissue in the most cost effective manner, we determined that it is in the best interest of patients awaiting eye tissue transplants for us to continue screening the calls separately. If your potential donor’s heart is no longer beating, it is best to call the AEB first since timeliness of recovery for ocular transplantation and research is significantly more critical than in the case of recovery of cadaveric tissue for transplantation and research.
After determining suitability for ocular recovery, the AEB coordinator will transfer you immediately to the AOC so they may screen for tissue. Conversely, if your potential donor is a heart-beating donor, the AOC should be called first to determine the possibility of organ transplantation. If the potential donor fails their donation criteria, they will immediately transfer the call to the Eye Bank for eye donation consideration. Although this call procedure may seem a bit tedious, please remember that our goal is to help as many individuals as possible from each and every donor.
What is your upper age limit, and why do I have to call you if I know the patient is too old to donate eyes?
The COP requires hospitals to report every death that occurs to the designated organ procurement agency (the AOC in Alabama). According to the AEB’s present donor criteria (which is subject to change depending upon current demand), Alabama patients under age 80 may donate their corneas for transplantation, assuming they meet the other medical requirements. Since we provide many tissues for valuable research, all patients in Jefferson County should be reported to the AEB, regardless of age.
Do I approach the family about eye donation on a Medical Examiner case?
Yes. The family of every deceased patient deserves the opportunity to donate, and, generally, Medical Examiner patients are especially good candidates for eye donation. However, accidental and unexpected deaths present unique challenges when counseling the next-of-kin, and the AEB is available to provide counselors with special guidance if needed. Since donation has been proven to help relieve the suffering caused by the unexpected loss of a loved one, it is especially important to discuss donation with these families. In order not to interfere with a required autopsy, the AEB will coordinate with the Medical Examiner.
Does HIPAA allow me to release patient information to you?
Yes. The HIPAA regulation states, “A covered entity may use or disclose protected health information to organ procurement organizations or other entities engaged in the procurement, banking, or transplantation of cadaveric organs, eyes, or tissue for the purpose of facilitating organ, eye or tissue donation and transplantation.”
When should I release the body to the funeral home?
Not until the AEB has completed the tissue recovery. Because AEB technicians perform a thorough review of the patient’s medical chart before recovering the eyes or corneas, we prefer the donor not be released to the funeral home until the recovery is completed. We understand that occasionally circumstances necessitate releasing the body to the funeral home prior to recovery. Should this occur, please call the AEB immediately so we can coordinate with the funeral home to delay the start of the embalming process until after the tissue recovery. This will help ensure the family’s desires concerning donation are honored.
Do I have to talk to the family while they are here at the hospital, or can they be approached later at home?
It is important to give the family enough time to understand the reality that their loved one has died and give them an opportunity to grieve before they are approached about donation. Because corneal recovery for transplantation must take place as soon as possible after death, it is best for families to be approached before they leave the hospital for several reasons:
- Often families cannot be located quickly after leaving the hospital, if they can be located at all, and donation is delayed until consent is obtained or denied to them altogether.
- Funeral directors usually begin preparing the deceased for burial immediately upon their return to the funeral home, thereby preventing the possibility of donation. By allowing the funeral director to remove the body before donation is discussed with the next-of-kin, the family may be denied their right to decide about donation.
- Although consent may be obtained via telephone, it is easier and preferable to handle the transaction while the family is physically present.