Seeing your way clear for the eye bank

More than 1200 people every year in Ontario can see children, family members, or the beauty of an autumn day because someone donated eye tissue to the Eye Bank of Canada (Ontario Division).

Anyone can donate their eyes — as long as the corneas are clear, they can be used for transplants. For this reason, donors have been accepted over 100 years of age — perfect eyesight is not a requirement. Even those who have died from cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological or even cancerous conditions can be accepted.

The Eye Bank of Canada is a non-profit organization operated by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, which runs the donor system, paying transportation and promotion costs. The Department of Ophthalmology of the University of Toronto provides the infrastructure and medical expertise; the Ontario Ministry of Health covers most of the operating expenses on an annual contract basis. Since there is no budget for equipment, the Eye Bank relies on supporters, such as the Lions Clubs of Ontario and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Rebekahs of Ontario, to fund both major and minor purchases. Fund raising by many volunteers provides needed financial suppo.

Since its beginning in 1955, more than 30,000 eyes have been donated and over 20,000 corneal transplants performed. The sclera of donated eyes may also be used for some sight-saving surgeries. The remainder of the eye is used for research into the treatment of eye disease. The Eye Bank receives the eyes, and after processing the tissue, sends it to qualified ophthalmologists through out Ontario.

All eyes are tested by the Canadian Red Cross for HIV (AIDS), and both hepatitis B and C. Tests are also done for communicable viruses and bacteria.

Questions and concerns about eye donations

1. Will my loved one be disfigured? Will we still be able to have an open casket funeral?An open casket funeral is still possible. No one will know there has been an eye donation unless you tell them. On rare occasions there may be a slight swelling which seems to occur after earlier attempts at resuscitation.

2. Will there be extra cost to our family for this donation?No.

3. Can all blind people benefit from a corneal transplant?No. It will only be of value to someone whose eye has a defective cornea.

4. Can the Eye Bank use my eyes even though I wear glasses?It doesn’t matter if you wear glasses. An eye specialist makes the final decision, but as long as the cornea is healthy, clear and free from disease, the eyes may be useful. You don’t need a medical examination either.

5. How do I go about donating my eyes to the Eye Bank?Donor cards you may carry with you are available from any CNIB office. You may also fill in the donor information on your driver’s license or OHIP card. Be sure and discuss your wishes with your family. After your death, the physician will confirm your intentions with your next-of-kin before the donation proceeds.

6. Are all eyes tested for AIDS?Yes. Testing for HIV (AIDS) and Hepatitis B and C is done by the Canadian Red Cross on all eyes donated to the Eye Bank.

Your generous donation of your eyes will offer someone a chance to regain their sight. Religious leaders of Christian and Jewish faiths have endorsed the idea with enthusiasm.