April 15, 2023

A Whole New Perspective

Every year in April we celebrate National Donate Life Month,  to bring awareness to organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation,  encourage donor registration, honor deceased and living donors, and celebrate the lifesaving and healing gift of transplantation  Thousands of people are working in unison to find the perfect organ match, facilitate organ transplant and care for  heroic organ donors, their courageous families and the grateful organ recipients on a daily basis. It is a complex process to say the least, while also being very intriguing to many. This is why many documentaries, media outlets, movies and even television shows cover the topic. It is one of the most beautiful legacies to leave behind. Today we would like to shed light on a more common type of donation that often gets overlooked.  

Did you know there is a tiny part of you only three business cards thick and about the size of your thumbnail that can give someone else their life back? This gift is small and transparent. It does not require blood matching or tissue typing. Ethnicity, geography, gender and race do not determine the perfect match. Most of us are universal donors when it comes time to donate and uniquely, we are universal recipients if we need this gift… Have you guessed it yet? It is called a cornea. Also, nicknamed by many as the ‘window to our soul.’  

The cornea provides two-thirds of our refractive power which allows our eyes’ lens to do the other third of the business of focusing the light we see onto the back of our eye (an area known as the retina). The retina turns this light into signals that our brain interprets as colors, patterns, shapes and textures. We see the color of our loved ones’ iris, in all their speckled and striated glory which some say, ‘we fall helplessly in love with at first sight’ (thanks in large part to our corneas). 

Corneas were first transplanted almost 50 years before the first organ transplant (the first kidney transplant was performed in 1954). An Austrian surgeon, Eduard Zirm, performed the first cornea transplant in 1905. The first organization created to facilitate corneal transplants (also known as an eye bank) was formed in 1944. There is a great deal of history that has gotten us to where we are today. Cornea transplantation has evolved from a full thickness transplant, requiring months or even years of recovery to a minimally invasive, outpatient and scheduled procedure with most recoveries taking as little as several days or weeks. Surgical technology has advanced to the point that surgeons put the final touch on corneal transplants with much of the preparation being done by highly skilled technicians in a laboratory environment of an eye bank. Ty Eye Bank Team Member 1

In 2022, over fifteen thousand corneas were processed for a procedure known as Descemet’s Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty (DMEK). That is a long name for a tissue paper thin (dissected under a microscope) corneal recovery with the hope of decreased complications for recipients and improved transplant outcomes. Nevadans were unable to receive this cutting-edge ophthalmic gift in state and had to leave their community to seek this transplant elsewhere. Local eye surgeons decided they were going to bring these specially prepared corneal gifts from other parts of the country to deliver top-level care to their patients. Nevada Donor Network decided to put in the work to make history happen! Our team proudly initiated our DMEK processing program in March, after years of research, training efforts and validation with our colleagues, medical director and regulatory agencies. We are now able to help surgeons in Nevada, and beyond, to bring this sight-restoring gift to patients who desperately require corneal transplants. We are proud Nevadans and continue to support elevating healthcare in Nevada.  

We celebrate National Donate Life Month to honor the generosity of the heroes we serve and remind our community that all types of donations make an impact. Inspired? Get involved and help celebrate this special month by visiting www.nvdonor.org/april.