Seeing clearly thanks to donor eye transplants

Seeing clearly thanks to donor eye transplants

When you sign up to become an organ donor, you are also signing up to become an eye donor. Corneal transplants are one of the most common transplants, restoring vision in people with progressive eye diseases.

Myrna Carter never had problems with her vision until she hit her 40s. "It was like it was stamped on my forehead," she said, "that I was in my 40s, because all of a sudden, I was doing the yo-yo thing with my books."

Myrna moved from reading glasses to bifocals and then needed something even stronger. "Driving down the highway, I was seeing the signs, and some days it would be blurry and some days it would be clear, so it wasn't constant," she said.

Ophthalmologist and cornea specialist Charlie Thompson at The Eye Clinic says Myrna has a common condition in adults as they age: Fuch's endothelial corneal dystrophy. "When it's bad enough, it causes the cornea to swell and take on excess water, which is part of the reason why it blurs vision," said Dr. Thompson.

That condition, combined with cataracts, meant that Myrna would one day need a corneal transplant to see clearly. "It was going to get progressively worse, and in my case, they said if you reach a certain point that they have to do the full corneal transplant," she said.

Myrna was a perfect candidate for what is known as a DSAEK triple: a procedure that would remove her cataract and repair her cornea with donor tissue. "You go in and do the cataract surgery and remove that. That's step one," said Dr. Thompson. "Step two is to replace the lens or the cataract with an intraocular lens that's made of plastic. And then the third step is to do the partial thickness corneal transplant."

The partial corneal transplant uses fewer stitches than a full thickness transplant and is also easier in recovery. Myrna saw changes within a week. "I didn't have glasses on, and I could read some of the smaller print on the screen of the TV," she said.

Dr. Thompson says making the decision to be a donor can truly change the way a stranger sees the world. "It's one of those things that a lot of people don't know about," he said, "that you can donate your eyes, especially if you are fortunate enough to have healthy eyes. They can really go into helping a lot of people."

It is something Myrna says she is so grateful to have received. "Someone has sure helped me see a lot better, and I'm thankful for that," she said.

Myrna had her right eye operated on in September and will have the same procedure on her left eye in January. The transplant is a day surgery and recovery takes about three months.

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