It starts with eye and tissue donation
Some people think that if they’ve elected to donate their eyes, their entire eye is donated to someone else - but this is not the case. In fact, only the cornea - the clear, outermost layer of the eye is used for corneal transplantation. A corneal transplant, involves a surgical procedure where a damaged cornea is replaced by the healthy cornea from a deceased donor.
If a person dies in the hospital, has elected to be an organ and tissue donor, and their family has also consented – Trillium Gift of Life will be notified. Once Trillium has connected with the organ donor's family, they contact The Eye Bank. This process must happen within hours of the time of death. For this reason, technicians from The Eye Bank are on call 24-hours a day.
Review and tissue inspection
After consent is given, the donor family will fill out a medical history form for The Eye Bank. We also retrieve medical records to find out cause, time of death and medications that may have been administered. This information will help The Eye Bank decide whether the tissue is suitable for transplantation. The donor is also screened for infectious diseases including HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
Recovering the eye tissue
Once the initial screening is complete, a technician will prepare to retrieve the eye from the donor. Wearing a full gown, gloves and mask, the technician will clean the area around the eyes and remove the whole eye. Then they place the tissue in a medical storage container which is transported back to The Eye Bank.
At The Eye Bank, a technician will look at the donated tissue through a microscope. They take a close look for deformities or damage to the cornea and make sure it meets the criteria for transplantation. If the eye passes this exam the technician will then surgically remove the cornea from the whole eye and place it in a preservative that will keep it healthy until released for transplant i.e. within 14 days of death.
Sent to surgeon for transplantation
Once the Medical Director at The Eye Bank authorizes that the cornea is suitable for transplantation, the cornea is sealed into a container and sent to the hospital or Independent Health Facility (IHF) performing the transplant. The cornea is labelled with a unique identification number so The Eye Bank can track the tissue from donor to recipient.
The Eye Bank provides the opportunity for transplant recipients to write an anonymous letter to the donor families. We share this letter along with a certificate of acknowledgement with the donor family. The certificate acknowledges the deceased donor who provided the enduring gift of sight. All correspondence between donor families and recipients is anonymous to protect the confidentiality of both parties.