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.
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.
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.
“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