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Cornea Donation

Cornea donation is necessary for the preservation and restoration of sight.

The cornea is the clear, dome-like window covering the front of the eye, which enables us to see. Injury, hereditary conditions, and disease can damage the cornea, causing severe loss of vision and even blindness. But since 1961, nearly one million corneal transplants have restored sight to adults and children in the U.S. 

Almost anyone can donate corneas after they pass on. See below to learn more.


How Eye Donation Works

  1. Hospitals are required to refer all deaths to VisionGift, a not-for-profit eye bank. If a patient dies outside of a hospital setting, anyone - hospice staff, family, staff at an assisted living facility or nursing home, or even clergy - can make a referral to VisionGift by calling 800-605-8712.
  2. VisionGift staff check the Donate Life Northwest Registry to see if the patient had registered as a donor. If a patient is a registered donor, the family is informed of their loved one’s legally binding authorization for donation. In the absence of designation, the donation coordinator asks the family or legal next of kin (usually a spouse, relative, or close friend) for consent. The donation process proceeds only after the family has granted authorization.
  3. VisionGift coordinators work with hospital staff, the family, and medical examiners to screen the patient's medical and social history.
  4. If the patient's history does not rule out donation, a medical team from VisionGift is dispatched for recovery. At all times, the donor is treated with dignity and respect. Donation does not alter the donor's appearance. A donor family does not pay any costs associated with the recovery of tissue.
  5. Follow-up testing continues the process of evaluating eye tissue for safety. If eye tissue is found to be unsuitable for transplant, it can still be used for research purposes - to study visual impairment, or to advance knowledge of surgical techniques.
  6. Families can proceed with regular funeral arrangements. Donation does not affect the appearance of the donor, nor does it delay funeral services.

Facts about Cornea Donation

  • Almost anyone can be a cornea donor. The great thing about corneal tissue is that everyone is a universal donor. Your blood type does not have to match. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what color your eyes are, or how good your eyesight is. Aside from those suffering from infections or a few highly communicable diseases such as HIV or hepatitis, most people are suitable donors. With few exceptions, even a patient with cancer history may be eligible to donate corneas. 
  • Cornea donation is a time-sensitive process. Generally, cornea donation must happen within 12 hours of death.
  • Only the cornea can be transplanted - not the entire eye. The entire eye can be used for research and education.

Facts about Cornea Transplant

  • Receiving a cornea transplant does NOT change the color of a recipient's eye! The cornea is a clear, separate layer - not to be confused with the colorful iris.
  • Whenever possible, eye banks try to place the cornea with a patient that is close in age to the donor to help ensure that the cornea will last throughout the patient’s lifetime.
  • Ninety-five to 99% of all corneal transplant operations successfully restore the corneal recipient’s vision.
  • The gift of sight is made anonymously - recipients do not learn the identity of their donor. However, recipients can write anonymously to their donor family, in care of the eye bank, to express their thanks. VisionGift will pass along this communication.

For more information, visit: VisionGift