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We are dedicated to improving access for patients requiring screening services.
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process and distribute donated human eyes
and tissue for sight-saving transplants.
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The Eye Bank of Canada (Ontario Division) will say goodbye to two influential people who are retiring at the end of 2016 - Medical Director Dr. William Dixon and Director Linda Sharpen.
The Eye Bank of Canada (Ontario Division) is the largest Eye Bank in Canada, and one of the largest Eye Banks in North America. Its purpose is to collect, process and distribute donated human eyes and tissue for sight-saving transplants. In 2016, the Eye Bank received more than 2300 eye and tissue donations.
During their 15-year working relationship, Dixon and Sharpen have worked tirelessly to improve access to quality eye tissue in Ontario.
Not only have they steadily increased the number of eye and tissue donors in the province, they’ve also improved the processing of transplanted tissue, and played a role in decreasing the wait-times for people who need a corneal transplant.
To say Dr. William Dixon “knows eyes” is an understatement. A renowned ophthalmologist in Toronto, he’s been in the business of treating complex eye disease for more than 40 years. He joined the Eye Bank as Medical Director in 1978 while practicing at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
“When it was time for me to go to university there were three options: lawyer, engineer or doctor,” said Dixon. “I had many doctors in my family – 42 in fact. So it was a natural choice for me to go to medical school.”
After one year of family practice. Dixon decided he’d like to specialize in ophthalmology. “I like the neatness of dealing with the cornea,” said Dixon. “You can clearly see what you’re working with. And I liked the outcomes - in some cases you can help people get their vision back.”
With a quick Google search you can see Dixon is exceptional at his job. Patients say that he “treated them like part of the family” and helped “get their sight back.” One woman even thanked Dixon for treating her 8-month-old baby, and “taking the time to draw the procedure on a piece of paper so she could see exactly what was going to happen.”
During his whole career in ophthalmology, Dixon was also making influential decisions as Medical Director of the Eye Bank.
“In the 1970s and 80s there were no standards for the techniques of corneal transplant surgery,” said Dixon. “You would have one surgeon using one technique, and another surgeon using another technique.” According to Dixon it wasn’t that different when it came to inspecting donor tissue for disease.
“All you would really know is how the donor died,” said Dixon. “Then you would make a decision based on the information you had. Now, we inspect all tissue for infectious diseases before we prepare it for transplant.”
For Dixon, his concern has always been about what would be most successful and comfortable for his patients. Because of this dual perspective, Dixon has played a role in refining tissue screening and processing to ensure all people in Ontario receive the best possible donor tissue for their procedure.
Dixon has also led initiatives to help the team preserve tissue for longer periods, check the quality of tissue for infectious diseases, and even prepare tissue ahead of time for certain surgeries.
“He’s always supported us in our work,” said Sharpen about Dixon. “I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Dr. Dixon and his work.”
Linda Sharpen’s story starts off very similar to Dixon’s. She also had three choices about what to study in school: medicine, law or engineering. She decided to focus on science and after her undergraduate degree finished, she started working as a lab manager at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto.
When the opportunity came up to become the Director of the Eye Bank in 2003, Sharpen decided to go for it. She knew it would involve travel, education and marketing for the Eye Bank, and she was ready for the challenge.
“I knew my responsibility was to share what we did at the Eye Bank, and break down the barriers that prevent people from electing to donate their organs, and tissues” said Sharpen. “One of the biggest challenges was the SARS epidemic. For a while, organizations wouldn’t accept any eye tissue from Toronto – and it forever changed the way we collected and processed tissue in general. It was a huge transition.”
After SARS, the number of organ and tissue donors in Ontario dropped dramatically. Since then, Sharpen has been working steadily to strengthen relationships within the community and increase the number of donors.
One of Sharpen’s accomplishments was developing a partnership between the Eye Bank and Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN), which has led to a huge increase in organ and tissue donors. “We’ve successfully increased the number of eye donors by 7% each year since 2003,” said Sharpen.
Sharpen is also notable for her work in developing a Hospice Recovery Program. Thanks to her dedication, almost 10% of all eye donations to the Eye Bank come from hospices in Ontario.
Dixon and Sharpen both believe that the future is bright for innovation in corneal transplantation and the Eye Bank. “There is a study in Sweden taking place where they are attempting to grow corneas in a lab using stem cells, which would have a huge impact on corneal transplantation,” said Dixon. “I also anticipate we will also be able to store tissue for much longer in the future.”
For Sharpen, she believes the Eye Bank will continue to grow the number of donations it receives and processes each year. “The Eye Bank has been in operation for more than 60 years and over that time we’ve become more and more self-sufficient,” said Sharpen. “As we continue to grow, it’s important to remember the history of the Eye Bank. I take huge pride in knowing that we are carrying on the work and vision of those who started this place.”
Dixon and Sharpen will retire officially from the Eye Bank at the end of December, 2016. For more information about the Eye Bank, please visit www.kensingtonhealth.org.