As rightly said, " Useless to the dead, priceless to the blind", the eyes are a vital part of our body. They help us to see things and perceive the environment around us. Without the light of our eyes, people become blind and are unable to perceive the environment well. They slowly adapt themselves to their condition and take the help of the other senses for perceiving their environment.
The human eye is a very sophisticated and powerful body part. It remains in a fresh working condition even after 4 – 6 hours after death. Thus, for an eye transplant to work, the eye has to be extracted within 4 – 5 hours after the death of a certain individual. The process of removing the eye from the eye socket has to be done by an experienced medical practitioner only.
The first successful cornea transplant was performed as early as 1905 in Austria. Around the 1940s R. Townley Paton, a famous American ophthalmologist started doing successful cornea transplants in the Manhattan ENT hospital. In 1944, the first eye bank was established in the city of Manhattan by Dr Paton. In October 1961, a committee called the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) was formed which is a regulatory body governing all eye banks.
The process of eye donation starts with two parties agreeing with mutual consent of the next of kin. After the donor dies, a medical practitioner is dispatched to extract the eye or sometimes the cornea. The eye or in some cases the cornea is stored in a liquid to maximize its duration. Following this, the blood of the donor is checked to be bereft of any contaminable diseases. If the blood checks out, the eye transplant can be carried out when required.
The eye that is extracted is stored in a certain liquid having the capability to preserve substances. This stored eye is generally kept in an eye bank where it can be further used. The process of storing the eye can be done in the following three ways-
1. Organ Culture – This is the oldest existing method to store the eyes. The eye, after being removed is stored in a solution containing formalin and other preservatives. Antibiotics like streptomycin and ampicillin are also mixed in the solution to make the eyes resistant to fungal attacks. Under such conditions, the eyes can be used for transplantation up to around 4 weeks.
2. Hypothermia – The most widely used and preferred mode of storing the eyes is the method of hyper freezing the eyes well below their optimal temperatures. Mostly the eyes are stored in a vacuum chamber at around 0-50OC. This method is widely used because it can store the eye for a long time ranging from about a month to even as long as a year if sufficient cooling is provided.
3. Cryopreservation – This is the most advanced method to store eyes where the eyes are kept in such an environment similar to inside the human body and impulses are continuously sent to it by a computer. This method is still undergoing research and is believed to be able to store eyes for more than 5-10 years.
Eye Donation – A gift of beauty, a return for Eternity. Please donate eyes.