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Saving sight. Changing lives.

Donors and their families

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Who can donate?

Almost anyone can donate eyes (or corneas) upon their death. Cataracts, poor eyesight, and age do not prohibit donation. The great thing about corneal tissue is that everyone is a universal donor regardless of blood type, eye colour and eyesight. Aside from those suffering from haematological malignancies, transmissible neuropathological diseases or a few communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, most causes of death do not render a person unsuitable to donate.

Additionally, suitability after previous eye surgery or eye disease in the donor is assessed at the time of donation. This means that the Lions Eye Donation Service will examine the ocular medical history to ensure that transplanted cornea will provide the recipient with the best possible visual outcome.

How can someone notify others of their wishes?

Prior to one’s death, communication amongst family members and next of kin is important to ensure that wishes to donate, or not, are carried out after death. This can also be supported through registration of interest on the Organ Donor Registry of Australia . If you have made or will be making pre-need funeral arrangements, you may also wish to tell your funeral director.

Telling your next of kin is the single most important step you can take to ensure you will become a donor at the time of your death. Talk to your family about donation and make sure they know your wishes. Everyone’s individual decision is valid and should be respected.

How are wishes to donate confirmed?

The Lions Eye Donation Services will establish consent for donation prior to recovery of the donation. To complete this process, the team will seek consent or confirm the donor’s consent, from the next of kin. This usually takes place once the team is notified of the death of an individual. The Lions Eye Donation Service team is usually notified by the person’s medical team but it important the family raise the wish to donate with the medical or nursing staff.

Once it is confirmed that the deceased wished to donate, the team will complete a consent process which includes an exploration of their medical history with the next of kin and the medical team (or GP). This assists in assessing the suitability to donate.

When are donations recovered?

As the cornea begins to deteriorate rapidly after death, the eye needs to be removed within hours of death.

How will someone look once they donate?

The donor’s appearance is the same as that immediately pre-donation. The surgeon ensures that all features are maintained and, as the procedure involves no skin incisions, there is no alteration to the external appearance. Open casket or viewing can still occur without concern or delay to funeral arrangements.

Are the family informed of who will receive the donation?

By law, the identity of the recipients and the identity of the donor and donor family must remain confidential. However, the Donation Service will send the donor family a letter acknowledging the donation and can facilitate anonymous correspondence between the recipient and donor family.

Is there a cost associated with donation?

There is absolutely no cost to the donor or donor family. It is illegal to buy or sell human eyes, organs, and tissues. Any costs associated with eye donation are absorbed by the Lions Eye Donation Service.

About the donation process

When consent is given for eye donation, it means that the eyes will be removed within a few hours after death by a trained professional who works with the Lions Eye Donation Service. Verbal consent from the senior available next-of-kin is sufficient.

For patients in a hospital, the doctor will note the details of the consent in the patient’s medical records. Occasionally the doctor may ask the next-of-kin to co-sign this entry. Outside of hospital, a Lions Eye Donation Service staff member will document verbal consent. Alternatively an individual may complete a consent form shortly before his or her death or the legal next-of-kin may complete the form after death has occurred. Please note consent cannot be given by a next-of-kin if it was known the person objected to organ or tissue donation during their life.

In most instances, eyes are recovered at a hospital, but someone who dies at home, in a nursing home, or in other facilities such as Hospice centres may also become a donor. Such donation recovery may take place within a morgue or funeral home.

Eye removal is a surgical procedure performed under sterile conditions and typically takes an hour or less to complete. It is not necessary for family members to remain present while the procedure is being performed. The potential donor’s medical notes will be reviewed and the doctors will be asked questions about the donor’s medical history. The next-of-kin will also be asked about the medical and lifestyle history of the donor.

Once eyes are removed, they are brought to the Lions Eye Donation Service for examination. The eyes are evaluated for corneal transplantation potential. A blood sample is also taken at the time of eye removal, and is sent to be tested for certain infectious diseases. Eyes are also examined microscopically for corneal defects, disease processes, and to count the number of cells present in the corneal layers which are responsible for pumping excess fluid from the cornea. The pumping function is a primary factor in the cornea’s ability to produce clear vision.

Based on the results of this thorough corneal evaluation, a decision can be made about the suitability of transplantation. Corneas that have passed the evaluation for transplantation are offered to local corneal surgeons whose patients have been listed with the Lions Eye Donation Service. Additionally corneas may be distributed for urgent cases or to relieve waiting lists in other Australian states or New Zealand.