To help you make the decision that is right for you and your loved one, we provide answers to the most frequently asked questions on cornea donation.
The death of a loved one can be a devastating experience. SightLife offers a range of resources on specific topics to help you in your grieving process.
We understand this is a very difficult time. Unfortunately, a range of medical and physiological constraints necessitate the donation processes to work on a tight timeline, providing our teams a narrow window to discuss options with you. With the utmost respect for your loss, we work to complete the end-to-end donation process in accordance with best practice and no more than 12 hours after death. The donation process will not interfere with any of your arrangements, but if donation recovery does not occur within the maximum set window of 24 hours, as per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the opportunity for your loved one to give the gift of sight slips away because the likelihood of a successful transplant is reduced.
In the U.S., donation and transplantation are federally regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The questions that SightLife asked you are a required and important part of ensuring the safety of the donated tissue prior to transplant. They are the same kind of questions that would be asked of you if you donated blood.
Yes, under federal law, hospitals are required to notify donation programs of all deaths to ensure that every eligible patient and their family have the same opportunity to donate, which is one of many end-of-life decisions that patients and their families need to make. In addition to partnering with hospitals, SightLife works closely with medical examiners, coroners, and funeral homes across a range of regions and communities in the U.S.
The most common way to register as a donor is through the Department of Motor Vehicles when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license. Individuals can also register online (www.donatelife.net). Either way, when your loved one registered as a donor, they legally authorized the recovery of their organs, eyes, and tissue upon death, instead of leaving the decision to family. While the decision to donate has already been made by your loved one, donor families—like you—still play an important role in honoring that decision by providing information critical to the success of the donation and transplantation process.
A cornea can be damaged as a result of injury, infection, or corneal disease such as Fuchs' Dystrophy or keratoconus. Learn more about common diseases here.
Each year, tens of thousands of people have their sight restored through corneal transplant, which is a surgery that replaces a segment of an impaired cornea with a segment of a healthy donor cornea. The cornea has no blood vessels, so matching a donor to a recipient by blood type is not necessary.
No. Any costs associated with cornea donation are absorbed by SightLife, a not-for-profit organization and the world’s leading eye bank. In the U.S., and throughout much of the world, it is illegal to buy or sell human eyes, organs, and tissue.
No. The gift of sight is made anonymously. Specific information about the donor or donor family is not available to the recipient. When available, donor families are provided the sex and age of the recipients. SightLife does encourage recipients to write an anonymous letter of thanks to the donor family. We serve as a confidential “bridge” between donor families and recipients.
Saying “yes” to donation is a courageous and thoughtful decision that is celebrated by SightLife and by people in need worldwide. There are a variety of research projects that go on domestically and abroad that help address the prevention and elimination of cornea defects and degenerations, and we send some of these donations to help doctors and researchers discover solutions. In particular, our research projects have supported case studies on macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
In some cases, corneas are not matched to a specific research project, but are used for training purposes. In order to guarantee that future transplants are performed successfully, SightLife and corneal surgeons need to practice and master their skills, which is made possible by corneal tissue that was not a match for research or suitable for transplant (i.e. would not result in a successful transplant). We donate these generously given corneas to our technicians and transplant surgeons to train in laser techniques and practice cutting edge surgical procedures. The research and training allow for huge progress in our ultimate mission: to eliminate corneal blindness worldwide. You and your loved one are contributing to this mission in a big way.