Have you been told you need a corneal transplant? This page will
help you find answers to some of your concerns by addressing the
more common questions about corneal transplant. You will also find
a brief description of the process from Donor to Recipient.
click on a question to view the answer.
What is a corneal transplant?
This is a surgical procedure which replaces the patient's cornea
with a healthy donor cornea.
How is a corneal transplant performed?
There are many types of corneal problems and not all require
corneal transplant. The cornea is the thin, transparent portion of
the eye. If the cornea becomes cloudy or scarred, the vision in the
eye becomes poor and you may need a corneal transplant.
During the procedure the patient is under general or local
anesthesia. There are two types of corneal transplants, a full
thickness and a partial thickness. Your surgeon will decide which
surgery is best for your condition.
In a full thickness corneal transplant, a circular opening is
made removing the center portion of the patient's cornea then a new
donor cornea is sewn into place. Tiny stitches are used to hold the
new cornea in place. Because the cornea heals slowly, the stitches
are kept in for 6-12 months.
In a partial thickness corneal transplant, a small incision is
made near the edge of the cornea; next the thin layer of the
patient's cornea is removed. Then a thin layer of the donor cornea
is slipped into the opening. Once the transplanted cornea is firmly
attached the corneal cloudiness goes away and good vision returns.
Partial thickness corneal transplants offer a faster recovery, 3-6
months, but cannot be used in all cornea conditions. This type of
surgery is generally offered as an option for patients suffering
from Fuchs' Dystrophy and other causes of corneal swelling.
Where does the cornea come from?
Corneas are a gift given through the generosity of a donor and
their family at the time of death.
Are corneal transplants safe?
Yes. Corneal transplants are one of the most successful and
frequently performed human transplant procedures. Potential corneal
donors are extensively screened for potential diseases before
allowing donation. Blood tests for diseases such as AIDS/HIV and
Hepatitis are performed to confirm that these will not be
transmitted to the recipient. Each donor's next of kin is required
to complete a medical-social history interview and all notes from
doctors are evaluated thoroughly by the eye bank in accordance with
the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) and the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) strict Medical Standards.
How long is the recovery for a transplant?
Most people find the physical recovery following surgery to be
relatively easy. Pain is generally minimal, although patients often
have irritation and light sensitivity for the first 2 to 3 weeks.
Although the vision may be better than before the surgery was done,
the time to full recovery of vision is harder to predict. In
general, patients should expect the vision to be blurry for at
least three months. For full thickness corneal transplants, on
average, recovery of full visual potential takes 6-12 months.
Partial thickness corneal transplants heal more quickly with
recovery occurring in 3-6 months.
Will my eye color change if I have a corneal transplant?
No - the cornea is a thin, transparent tissue. The color of your
eye is determined by your iris color.
Eye Banking: The Process from Donor to
The University of Louisville Lions Eye Bank receives a call from a
hospital or an organ procurement organization that an individual
has died and has met preliminary criteria for donation. The eye
bank has a very short time within which to contact the next of kin,
obtain consent and recover the tissue. This generally needs to
happen within 16 hours of the time of death.
The eye bank contacts the next of kin by phone to obtain consent
for the donation of the individual's corneas.
If consent is given, the next of kin is asked to complete a
medical-social history interview. This interview provides the eye
bank with information to make a donor eligibility
The Donor Medical Review:
After consent is given, the eye bank obtains copies of relevant
medical records for review from the hospital, a step in the process
of creating a complete donor profile. Blood tests for diseases such
as AIDS/HIV and Hepatitis are performed to confirm that these will
not be transmitted to the recipient.
After recovering the corneas, the tissue is placed in a solution.
This solution keeps the tissue viable and helps to reduce bacterial
growth. The technician then transports the corneas back to the eye
Specially trained technicians evaluate the cornea through
microscopes to ensure that it meets the eye bank's strict criteria
The Eligibility Determination:
The eye bank's medical director or his/her designee reviews the
records for the donor and makes a final eligibility determination
in accordance with the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) and
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strict Medical
The Release of Tissue:
If the medical director or his/her designee authorizes release of
the tissue, the cornea is then offered to the surgeons for
transplant on a fair and equitable system. The
cornea is labeled with a unique identification number to allow the
eye bank to track the tissue from donor to recipient. It is then
shipped or delivered to the surgeon or another eye bank for
Sample Letter to Donor Family
To My Donor Family,
Losing my sight changed my life completely! It was devastating.
I went from being a vibrant, independent, young woman to someone
who was completely dependant on others. I lost my freedom and could
no longer function as I once could. I became very depressed and
None of what I went through compares to what you had to
experience. The loss of a loved one is something from which you
will never recover. Through your loss, you gave me a precious gift.
The gift that gave my life back! I received a cornea from your
loved one on October 9. My sight was restored along with my faith
and zest for life.
In your darkest hours, you were unselfish in your decision.
Please take comfort in knowing your loved one lives on, not only in
your heart, but in me. Each day I wake up and see the world through
the eye of your loved one. Because of this remarkable gift, I will
one day see my groom at the end of the church aisle. I will see the
faces of my unborn children. Words cannot express my gratitude.
May God bless you!