Q. Who can be an eye donor?
A. Anyone can be an eye donor, irrespective of age, sex, religion, caste, creed or blood group.
Q. Do religious authorities approve of eye donation?
Yes, all religious faiths support this vital sight restoration programme.
Q. Is the whole eye used for transplant?
A. No, only the thin transparent layer in front of the iris, called the cornea is used for transplant, to replace the diseased or opaque cornea in the eye of the patient (recipient).
Q. Do cataracts or the use of spectacles render the cornea unfit for donation?
A. No, both these conditions relate to the lens of the eye and not the cornea. In fact, people who have been successfully operated for cataracts or glaucoma or even retinal detachments can also donate their eyes after death. In fact there have been instances of those who have received a corneal transplant themselves donating their corneas after death! All that is required is that the donor have a clear, transparent, healthy cornea at the time of death.
Q. Does eye donation disfigure the donor’s face?
A. No, the removal of the eyes does not produce disfigurement nor interfere
with the customary funeral arrangements.
Q. Does the human body reject the transplanted donor’s cornea? How successful are corneal transplants?
A. The human cornea does not have any blood supply; hence the risk of rejection is very low. Rejection, if it does occur can be suppressed by timely medication. In general, the chances of success are greater than 80%. In deep anterior lamellar transplants, where the inner lining of the cornea called the endothelium, is not transplanted, the success rate is as high as 95%!
Q. What conditions render the cornea unfit for donation?
A. Corneas of patients suffering from AIDS, rabies, syphilis, tetanus, septicaemia and certain viral diseases are considered unfit for use for transplant purposes.
Q. What about diabetes, hypertension or cancer?
A. People with these conditions can also donate their eyes. Eyes from a cancer patient are not used for transplant only if the cancer had a blood borne spread.
Q. Is there any use for corneas which are for some reason unfit for transplant?
A. Corneas, which for some reason cannot be used for vision restoring corneal transplants, are invaluable for research and training programmes.
Q. How will my donation be used?
A. After the eyes are removed, they will be evaluated, processed, screened and then supplied to the eye surgeon for transplant.
Q. Do corneal transplants guarantee sight to all blind people?
A. No, transplants only help when the loss of sight is solely due to corneal defects and the rest of the eye mechanism is intact.
Q. How quickly should eyes be removed after death?
A. As soon as possible, but eyes can be removed up to 6 hours after death. However, in places where the climate is hot such as most parts of India, a shorter duration, preferably 2 to 4 hours after death is advisable.
Q. Is it necessary to transport the donor to the hospital after death?
A. No, eye banks have personnel who will come to the donor’s home or place of death and remove the eyes.
Q. What is an eye bank?
A. An eye bank is the link between the donor and recipient/eye surgeon. It is an organization recognised by the government to collect and distribute human eyes to those who require corneal transplants.
Q. What is to be done when a relative expires?
A. 1.Keep the death certificate or its copy to show to the eye bank team. They do not need to take it away. You do not need to look for a photocopier machine to make a photocopy in the middle of the night. The eye bank team only needs to look at the certificate to determine:
a) The patient is really dead and
b) The cause of death, to determine if the eyeball can be useful.
2. Contact your nearest eye bank – in India, most cities have 1919 as the eye bank contact number. Otherwise, check the local telephone directory – most eye banks are listed in the emergency numbers list. The eye bank team will arrive in the next 30-60 minutes, provided you have given them an accurate address with landmarks. The procedure will take only around 30-40minutes.
3. Close the eye lids, while waiting for the eye bank team and put off any overhead fan, to prevent drying of the cornea. However, if there is an air-conditioner, switch it on, if possible.
4. Cover the closed lids with moist cotton wool (if readily available in the house, otherwise do not bother).
5. Raise the donor’s head by 6 inches, by placing 2 pillows under it.
Q. Is there any cumbersome paperwork or time consuming formalities?
A. None whatsoever. The eye bank team will come with a form, which they will fill themselves. They will only need the signatures of 2 close relatives, giving consent. It does not matter whether the donor had pledged his eyes for donation during his lifetime or not.
Q. I believe some blood is also collected?
A. Yes, according to WHO guidelines, the team will also collect some blood from the donor, for testing for HIV, hepatitis etc. They will withdraw this from a large vessel or from the heart with a needle puncture.
Q. Is there a real need for Eye Donation?
A. Yes, in India there are lacs of patients awaiting corneal transplant.. in some eye banks patients wait over a year for their turn. Every year barely 30,000 corneas are donated, so the waiting list keeps growing!
Q. Finally, is there any money to be paid?
A. No, no monetary transaction is done. Most eye banks recover their running costs by charging a small processing fee to the recipients.
Q. If it does not cost to donate eyeballs after death and the procedure is so easy, and encouraged by every religion, why are there such few donors?
A. Good question. You tell me! You go around spreading the message of the nobility of eye donation and how easy and hassle free it is and maybe by the time I write next year, this question will need deletion!