Beyond eyeglass drives: Donor corneas collected by Moraine Lions Club eye bank

Local nonprofit giving the gift of sight by aiding operations for range of conditions.

The Lions Club is known for their eyeglass collection drives, but in Moraine the club also founded a nonprofit center that collects and distributes corneas for sight-saving procedures.

Lions Eye Bank of West Central Ohio operates in an office near the South Dixie Avenue and Dorothy Lane intersection.

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A group of physicians in the downtown Dayton Lions Club founded it in 1982 and in 2012 they separated from a larger tissue bank to become independent.

“That really allowed us to expand our operations to do some things like processing and do more than just corneal recovery. It helped us grow quite tremendously once we were able to branch out and be more independent,” Shannon Schweitzer, executive director, said.

Eye banks like the local one recover, evaluate and then distribute corneas and other recovered tissue. They work closely with eye surgeons both locally and outside the region, who are treating patients with conditions like Fuchs’ dystrophy or cornea scaring.

Their work primarily is all about the cornea, which is the clear dome surface that’s the outer layer that covers the front of the eye. Sometimes, that cornea is damaged or scarred or grows cloudy.

When a registered donor dies, Life Connection of Ohio, a local organ and tissue donation group, works with the Lions Eye Bank and the call center will contact the family and let them know the loved one was a registered donor.

While there are many complicated organ donations that require just the right set of conditions, corneas are much easier for donation. Blood type doesn’t matter and most people qualify. Also, corneal transplants are overwhelmingly successful, where other grafts come with a higher risk of rejection.

The donations are anonymous, but Schweitzer said sometimes, by request, they can facilitate letters to be given from the recipient to the donor’s family.

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Lions Eye Bank of West Central Ohio has about a $2.7 million annual budget, with the bulk of that being the expense of operating. The nonprofit runs with about 19 employees working at the local bank, with nine full time.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

The techs and other staff come from a range of professional backgrounds, from nursing or biology to more nontraditional backgrounds and soon learn to rattle off the jargon, with staff explaining along the tour the difference from a penetrating keratoplasty to a Descemet stripping endothelial keratoplasty.

After collecting the corneas from places like funeral homes, hospitals, or coroner’s offices, eye bank does quality evaluations and processing on site in Moraine. The staff use delicate instruments to carefully handle and process the tissue, which is measured in microns.

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“The average cornea is about the thickness of a credit card,” said Andrew Officer, technical director.

The center equipment includes an instrument similar to an eye doctor’s office where they can look at all five layers of the cornea.

Eye Bank Association of America reported its member banks in the U.S. provided 85,441 corneas for transplant in 2018. They also provided a further 28,000 corneas for use internationally.

The Moraine bank had a lower count this year because the temporary suspension of elective surgeries halted many cornea procedures. In 2019, and 2018, they roughly provided about 1,400 corneas for transplants. In 2020, they had a stressful spring as surgeries were suspended, and for the year they were only able to provide a little over 1,000.

“Moving forward into 2021, we’re really hoping for uninterrupted elective surgery scheduled this year and to be able to continue to give the gift of sight to as many patients as possible,” Schweitzer said.


By the numbers: Lions Eye Bank of West Central Ohio

1074: Donation recipients for 2020

842: Donors from the state of Ohio for 2020

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