Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a cornea?

A: A cornea is the clear, dime-sized tissue found at the front of the eye. It functions like a window, allowing light to pass through the eye. (See a diagram of the cornea and other eye anatomy here.) The cornea does not affect eye color, so transplant patients will retain their original eye color after their surgery.

Q: What is a cornea transplant?

A: A cornea transplant is a surgical procedure that replaces a diseased, damaged or infected cornea with a healthy, donated cornea. Corneal transplantation is the most frequently performed transplant procedure.

Q:How safe is corneal transplantation?

A: More than 90 percent of all cornea transplants performed in the U.S. are successful. Donated corneas are transplanted only after the donor's medical and social histories have been obtained. Blood samples are taken from the donor to test for disease, and the tissue itself is evaluated for suitability under special microscopes.

Q: Who can be an eye, organ and tissue donor?

A: People of all ages should consider themselves potential eye, organ and tissue donors. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what can be donated. If corneal tissue is not transplantable due to age or medical condition, the donation can, with authorization, be considered a gift for education and research involving glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and other sight disorders. These studies advance the knowledge of causes and effects of eye conditions leading to new treatments and cures.

Q: What can I donate?

A: A single organ donor can save up to eight lives and improve as many as 50 more. Organs that can be donated are the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissues that can be donated are corneas/eyes, skin, bone, heart valves, veins and tendons.

Q: My vision is bad. Why would Eversight want my cornea?

A: Your corneal tissue may be completely healthy even if your eyesight is poor. Many causes of vision loss do not affect the cornea. Donated corneas that are not suitable for transplantation can, with authorization, provide much-needed information for researchers or for those being trained in corneal tissue recovery, preservation and evaluation.

Q: How can research and education benefit from eye donation?

A: Each year, more than 30,000 eyes are donated in the U.S. for research and education involving glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and other sight disorders. These studies advance the knowledge of causes and effects of specific eye conditions, many of which cannot be treated through corneal transplantation, leading to new treatments and cures.

Q: How do I consent to donate my eye tissue?

A: Become a registered eye, organ and tissue donor by joining your state's Donor Registry. By joining the registry, you give first-person authorization to donate your organs instead of leaving the decision to relatives.

A: Be sure to discuss your final wishes regarding donation with your loved ones – family members are consulted at the time of death, and a 10-second conversation with them now can help them make the important decision to donate when the time comes.

Q: Is there a waiting list for transplantable corneas?

A: The patient waiting list for corneas has been virtually eliminated in the U.S., thanks to advanced surgery scheduling processes and the advent of corneal tissue preservation media. Unfortunately, there are still waiting lists for other tissues and organs.

Q: Is there a need to match blood type or eye color between donor and recipient?

A: No. Unlike other organs and tissues, the cornea is not nourished by blood, so no matching is required.

Q: What is an eye bank?

A: An eye bank is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the restoration of sight through recovery, evaluation and distribution of donated eye tissue. The tissue is used for either corneal transplantation or research and education.

Eversight has affiliates in Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Bloomington, Ill., and New Jersey.

Q: Will doctors and healthcare staff try as hard to save my life if they know that I am a registered donor and if they think my organs or tissues can be used?

Absolutely. By law, the team working to save a patient's life is completely separate from the team that recovers donated organs and tissues after death has been pronounced. Eye, organ and tissue recoveries are pursued only after all lifesaving measures have been exhausted and the patient is officially deceased. In many cases, the physicians and hospital staff treating a patient are not aware of his or her donor status until after death.

Q: How much does it cost to get a cornea transplant?

Costs associated with cornea transplant procedures are typically covered by health insurance or Medicare. Like any medical procedure, the patient must pay the surgical facility or hospital for the operation itself, but there is never any charge for donated eye tissue itself — it is considered a gift from the donor and his or her family.

A: Eversight receives a tissue processing fee from the surgical facility where the operation is performed. This fee helps offset the substantial costs involved in recovering, evaluating and distributing tissue. When patients lack medical insurance coverage and cannot afford corneal transplantation procedures, we work with surgeons and surgery centers to reduce or waive all fees to ensure no one in need of a sight restoring cornea transplant is turned away.

Q: What is the First Person Authorization Law?

A: First person authorization makes the donor's wishes the priority and authorizes the recovery of eyes, organs and tissue for transplantation, therapy, research and education after death. An organ procurement organization is notified upon every hospital death. Having your name on the Donor Registry can help ensure that your decision to become a donor is carried out. Discussing donation with your family will help in the process, as they will be consulted at the time of donation.

Q: Can a person indicate specific organs and/or tissue for donation on the Donor Registry?

A: The Donor Registry applies to all organs and tissue. To specify which organs and/or tissue can be donated, or to place other restrictions on donation, one must include these decisions in a will or other documentation that can be made available at the time of death.

Q: Why isn't signing the back of my driver's license enough?

A: The Donor Registry is the only document that is accessed at the time of death regarding donation. In many cases, a person's driver's license can't be located in time to determine a person's desire to become a donor.

Common concerns regarding donation:

  • Cost to family: Donor families do not incur any costs related to donation.
  • Funeral arrangements: If I donate, will it affect my funeral arrangements? No. Our recovery technicians take great care while recovering donated tissue to complete the delivery in a timely manner that leaves no visible signs of the donation. Families may make funeral arrangements, including viewings, as desired.
  • Does my religion support donation? Most major religions approve eye, organ and tissue donation, and consider donation an act of charity. If you are unsure, speak with your faith leader about your decision.

For further information, contact Eversight at (800) 247-7250.