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Eye Bank and Boulder County Coroner Sign Agreement

DENVER, CO--( August 12, 2014) - The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank (RMLEB) and the Boulder County Coroner have signed an agreement outlining the procedures to be followed when a decedent under the coroner's jurisdiction is an eye, organ and tissue donor.

The agreement, which is required under Colorado law but had been absent before now, is expected to increase the number of eye donations available for transplant from eye donors in Boulder County. At 70 percent, the county has one of the highest percentages of registered organ donors in the state.

Robert Austin, a spokesman for the eye bank, said the protocol sets expectations for each agency. "Donation has become a community standard in Boulder County," Austin said. "This protocol will allow death investigations and sight-restorative transplants to be carried out together more often. This is exactly the kind of cooperation the law calls for."

While Colorado law says coroners must perform investigations within time periods that allow for the recovery of donated organs and tissues, the coroner may overrule a donation if he or she feels it would jeopardize determining a cause of death. In many jurisdictions, all organs and tissues are often considered together but the Boulder County agreement is the first to consider eye donations separately from other types of tissue due to their unique properties. "Tear production stops at the time of death," Austin said. "And so the cornea can dry out and die very quickly in Colorado's arid climate. Time is our worst enemy."

Eighty-three eye donations in Colorado were denied or severely delayed by coroners in 2013 and the trend is not unique to Colorado. A Michigan organ procurement organization recently filed suit against a coroner for delaying an investigation that resulted in the loss of organs donated by the family of a 6-year-old boy. The suit is asking a judge to compel the county to comply with the law, which mirrors that in Colorado and most states.

The eye bank is launching an educational campaign aimed at coroners and their staff about the unique differences between eye donation and other types of tissues, including the big differences in the time periods in which they must be preserved. It will be working with nationally recognized forensic experts to assist with that educational effort as well as national organizations such as the National Association of Medical Examiners.