December 30, 2021

Understanding The Benefits of Corneal Transplants

Written by: Kelley McClellan


Did you know that more than 44,000 people receive a corneal transplant each year? If you’re considering becoming an organ, eye and tissue donor, you may not even know that you can also give the gift of sight to someone in need. Keep reading to learn more about corneal transplants and the benefits offered to recipient(s). 

One of The Most Successful Tissue Transplants

Doctors have been performing corneal transplants for over 100 years. In the late 1800s, the procedure was designed for individuals who had damaged corneas, replacing their corneas with healthy ones from a heroic donor who passed away. It is one of the most successful tissue transplants today. Unlike organ donation, it doesn’t require that the recipient and the donor have the same blood type. 

You may have heard corneal transplants referred to as “eye transplants,” but they do not actually involve replacing the entire eye. The cornea is the lens that rests over the pupil, and transplanting it can usually be done in less than an hour. This type of procedure is done for people with significant corneal damage, as minor issues can typically be addressed with laser procedures or other treatments. 

Types of Corneal Transplants

Thanks to technological advances, there are several types of corneal transplants that can be performed today. These include:

  • Penetrating keratoplasty (PK) - This procedure is done when all the layers of the cornea are opaque, damaged or thin, making functional sight impossible for the patient. For this procedure, surgeons use a heroic donor’s cornea to replace the recipient’s entire cornea. 
  • Keratoprosthesis (K-Pro) - During this procedure, the patient’s entire cornea is replaced with an artificial one along with structural components of a heroic donor’s tissue. This is needed when a natural donor cornea transplantation fails or when the recipient’s cornea is just too damaged to be repaired through the traditional methods. 
  • Deep Anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK) - Surgeons use this technique to replace only the top layers of a damaged cornea with the same layers of a heroic donor’s cornea. Patients who have scarring on just the front of the cornea, such as that caused by keratoconus, will likely receive this type of transplant.  
  • Endothelial keratoplasty (EK) - For this procedure, the inner layer of a heroic donor’s cornea is transplanted to replace the damaged innermost layer of a recipient's cornea. This technique is ideal for individuals with Fuchs’ dystrophy or another type of endothelial dystrophy, which can slowly degenerate the back part of the cornea. 

Who Needs a Cornea Transplant?

A corneal transplant can be life-changing for a grateful recipient. Corneal transplants are considered for those who have:

  • Substantial corneal scarring.
  • A degenerative eye disease.
  • Corneal swelling.
  • Keratitis or Keratoconus.
  • An infection that adversely impacts corneal health.
  • Corneal blindness.

For patients with these conditions, a corneal transplant can restore their sight and significantly improve their overall quality of life.

Benefits of Cornea Transplants

A corneal transplant can make a real difference for someone with limited functional sight. Here are a few of the many benefits that cornea transplants: 

Provides Near-Perfect Vision

One of the advantages of corneal transplants is that they can provide near-perfect eyesight for someone who may have had extremely cloudy vision before. Some patients with corneal blindness may have no functional sight at all. With a transplant, they can wake up post-surgery with renewed vision. 

Very High Success Rate

Today, cornea transplants have up to a 98% success rate. The risk of rejection is extremely low, and the patient can go up to 10 years or more before needing another transplant. Rejection symptoms, although rare, are treated effectively with steroid eye drops in most cases.

Fast Procedure And Quick Recovery

A cornea transplant can be done quickly and the patient doesn’t usually experience a long recovery period. Additionally, since this procedure can be completed so efficiently. In nearly all cornea transplants, the procedure is performed in an outpatient surgery center or clinic and rarely requires hospitalization.

Inspiring Stories of Corneal Donors

At  Nevada Donor Network, we love hearing how people are impacted by a heroic donor. Two stories that stand out come from Jackie Velasquez and Natalia Castellani. 

Jackie was an Army veteran who lost her life to cancer at just 22-years-old. Her corneas were able to restore sight to two people. Her mother, Marivel, extends her legacy by sharing Jackie’s story with others so that another life might be changed. 

Natalia was a married former English teacher who passed away from cancer at 42-years-old in 2021. Her corneas were donated after her passing, ensuring that Natalia’s kindness and compassion live on. 

A single tissue donor can save or heal 75 lives or more and restore sight for up to two people.. With their donations, Jackie’s and Natalia’s legacies will continue well beyond their passing, bringing hope and life to another through the gift of sight. 

Who Can Be a Corneal Donor?

Just about anyone can be a corneal donor. It doesn’t matter what eye color or eyesight the heroic donor has. As long as they don’t have an active infection or a communicable disease, most individuals can be universal cornea donors upon their passing. Nevada Donor Network honors these gifts from donors aged two to 75-years-old. 

Extend Your Legacy By Registering as an Organ, Eye And Tissue Donor Today

A corneal transplant can truly help someone who’s suffering from extreme loss of vision, ensuring they never miss out on seeing another important moment in their lives. You can extend your legacy by giving someone the gift of sight when you pass away. Register as an organ, eye and tissue donor today.