Before Donation: Registering as an Eye, Organ and Tissue Donor

Lives are transformed each day by the generous gifts given by eye, organ and tissue donors and their families. If you choose to become an organ donor, the first step is to sign up on 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. 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.

The Donation Process: Step by Step

Step 1: Referral and evaluation

When someone passes away, the state's official organ and tissue agency collaborates with the hospital or other facility involved in caring for the deceased person. When the agency receives word of a death, staff members review the Donor Registry to determine whether the individual had registered as an eye, organ and tissue donor. If the name appears on the Donor Registry, the agency contacts Eversight to handle the possible cornea donation.

Step 2: Authorizing a Donation

Eversight staff members contact the potential donor's next of kin to offer the option of donation, explain the donation process, answer question and provide any support the family may need. If the patient is a registered donor, their first person authorization guarantees that their wishes will be carried out after their death. However, Eversight still works with family members in an attempt to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the donation.

Step 3: Donor Care and Evaluation

After a donation has been authorized, our staff asks a series of detailed questions about the donor, similar to those asked of blood donors. A blood sample is also taken and tested for communicable diseases such as HIV or hepatitis. This review helps us determine possible medical problems or social behaviors that could put a transplant recipient at risk.

Once the medical history and blood tests determine that a person is eligible to be a donor, our specially trained eye tissue recovery technicians are dispatched to collect the tissue. Technicians are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to travel to hospitals or other facilities to recover donated eye tissue.

Step 4: Tissue Recovery

Eye tissue must be recovered and preserved within a few hours of a patients' death. When the Eversight technician arrives, he or she confirms the authorization for donation and determines the type of procedure to perform.

A corneal excision, the most common procedure, uses tiny scissors to gently separate only the cornea from the donor's eye; this is the procedure used when Eversight anticipates that the cornea may be suitable for transplantation. An eye enucleation — the removal of the donor's entire eye, also known as the globe — is generally performed when transplantation of the donor's cornea is not a possibility, but the globe can be used for specialized research or training purposes.

After eye tissue is recovered, the technician carefully places it in a special container, where it is submerged in a chemical solution to keep it healthy during transport, storage and laboratory evaluation. If stored properly and refrigerated, corneas can be preserved for as long as 14 days after recovery, though most are usually needed much sooner.

Step 5: Laboratory Evaluation

After donated corneas arrive in the lab, they are carefully unpacked, evaluated under special microscopes to assess the condition of the tissue. This evaluation can detect imperfections in the donor cornea that may cause vision problems after transplantation.

Step 6: Family Support

Within a few weeks, our staff sends a letter to the donor's family informing them of the outcome of the donation. Our staff continues to offer information, programs and services to the family for as long as they wish. This includes grief management resources, donor remembrance events and opportunities for communication with other donor families and transplant recipients.