In the United States, around 40,000 corneal transplants are performed every year. Corneal transplants are the most successful of all transplant surgeries, with a success rate higher than 85%. These stats are being made public during National Eye Donor Month throughout March, a period to remember people who passed away and donated their corneas and to encourage individuals to register as future donors. According to a UT Southwestern Ophthalmologist, corneal transplants are particularly well-suited for an eye condition known as Keratoconus.
The Transplant Services Center, the regional tissue bank for North Central Texas, is currently located on the UT Southwestern campus. The Center stores corneas and other tissue from registered donors or those whose families gave permission for donation at the time their family member died, and provides the tissues to 160 hospitals when needed.
Dr. Wayne Bowman, Professor of Ophthalmology at UT Southwestern said in a news release that keratoconus is an eye disease were the cornea turns thin and cone-shaped. The cornea is the clear layer over the front of the eye, analogous to the crystal on a watch. The curve-shape of the cornea is responsible for providing two-thirds of the focus of the eye. The altered shape of the cornea together with the scarring caused by keratoconus may lead to severe changes in vision. Patients with keratoconus can often have their vision corrected to a satisfactory level with glasses or contact lenses. But sometimes these corrections are not enough, as was the case for Mrs. Diou, the executive director of the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts in Arlington, Texas.
Donna Drury, Director of the Transplant Services Center, said that besides restoring or preserving vision, cornea donation can also help the donor family going through the grieving process.
Dr. Bowman pointed that over the past few years, considerable advancements have been made in corneal transplantation procedures, including improvement at screening corneas for disease, as well as great progress in the field of eye banking and transplant. He added that corneas are composed of 5 layers and due to progress in transplant techniques they can now work with just one layer of the cornea.
“The great thing about keratoconus is we can remove the most severely affected part of the cornea and replace it with a donor cornea and restore much, if not all, of the patient’s vision,” said Dr. Bowman.