Lions Eye Donation Service

Meet Dr Jacqueline Beltz

We sat down for a 5-minute chat with Dr Jacqueline Beltz, ophthalmologist, author and the Deputy Medical Director of the Lions Eye Donation Service.

Published 28 June, 2021

Jacqueline is an ophthalmologist and our Lions Eye Donation Service Deputy Medical Director. She has completed two years of advanced fellowship training in corneal transplantation and is the author of one book and multiple scientific papers chapters.

What are your responsibilities as Deputy Medical Director of the Lions Eye Donation Service?

As a medical director, I am responsible for answering or investigating any of the medical questions that come up during corneal donation. This might be in relation to past medical history, and therefore suitability of a person to become a corneal donor, or it might relate to recipients and their progress.

In addition, I also get to be involved with research, innovation and the introduction of new techniques – we are always trying to improve!

What are some of the highlights and challenges of working as a corneal transplant surgeon?

To be in any way involved in the process of restoring a person’s sight is an outrageous privilege and one that I never take for granted.

To support a patient through the shocking realisation that they are losing their sight, to have access to precious donor tissue and amazing modern techniques, to be the one that gets to do the surgery and then to spend time with patients and their families during recovery is amazing.

Transplant does carry some burden.

I try not to think about the loss of life or the grief of a family on the day of surgery. It’s too much. Operating on someone’s eye is already a great pressure.

Also, transplant is delicate and sometimes, about one per cent of the time, it just doesn’t work out. If a surgery needs to be repeated I don’t like to think of the tissue as wasted.

Somebody important donated that cornea and even if that one didn’t work, I prefer to think of it as a necessary step towards the recipient’s visual recovery. Every donor is important.

What aspects of the Lions Eye Donation Service’s work are you most proud of?

I was lucky to do a year of my cornea training in Italy under Professor Massimo Busin.

This was right at the time when he was developing a new technique for preparing tissue for a special type of corneal transplant called ultrathin DSAEK.

I got to go with him to the eye bank in Venice and watch the safety experiments for that technique, then go back to the operating room to learn how to master the surgery, and finally to his clinic to learn how to look after the patients.

I’m really grateful to have had that opportunity and to have been able to bring the technique back to our eye bank in Melbourne.

To be able to teach my peers that technique and help our patients to achieve better results is an absolute privilege.

What does the future of eye donation and corneal transplant look like?

Hopefully, our work will be completely different in the future. If we could be less reliant on the precious and delicate resource that is human donor tissue and more reliant on science – stem cell culture and gene therapy – that would be amazing!

I’m proud to work at the Centre for Eye Research Australia where we have some of the world’s best scientists working on these very improvements and making great progress over recent years.

Why should people consider becoming an eye donor?

Organ or tissue donation is such a precious gift that a person and their loved ones can give to someone else.

Every single one of my patients that are corneal transplant recipients think about and are grateful for the decision that a person and their family made to donate their corneas.

It’s so sad when any of us lose a loved one. Sometimes corneal transplantation can give a little positive light at that sad time.

It’s such a precious resource that will never be taken for granted by any of us that are involved.