Record Number of Eye Donors Leads to Record Number of Sight-saving Transplants
DENVER, February 3, 2016 — A record number of people regained their sight because a record number of people in Colorado and Wyoming were eye donors in 2015. The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank reported that 2,355 eye donors from Colorado and Wyoming helped restore the sight of 2,220 people in need of cornea transplants in 2015. These numbers reflect a 14 and 15 percent increase, respectively. The numbers also represent the highest number of both donations and transplants in the eye bank’s 33-year history.
Robert Austin, a spokesperson for the eye bank, said many things contributed to the high numbers. “The number of donors was up partly due to greater numbers of people signing up to be an eye, organ and tissue donors at the time of driver’s license renewal,” Austin said. Approximately 68 percent of Coloradoans and 59 percent of Wyomingites are registered as donors.
Beyond that, the eye bank instituted a number of initiatives in 2015 that increased the number of corneas that could be transplanted. One such action involved the way the eye bank interacted with coroners throughout the area. Coroners can stop a donation if he or she feels recovering the corneas might interfere with the death investigation. “We began to interact with coroners directly rather than relying on hospitals or other agencies involved in a case to interact on our behalf,” Austin said. As a result, the number of times a coroner denied the donation because of an impending investigation and autopsy fell by half.
The eye bank also worked hard to get medical records faster so that necessary medical evaluations could be done in a more timely way. “The availability of electronic medical records have taken a bit longer than expected,” Austin said, referring to federal laws that require hospitals to have electronic systems aimed at making sharing and access easier. “Hospitals have hit their stride in using the systems and our access has sped up considerably,” Austin noted.
The eye donors from Colorado and Wyoming helped not only people in their own states, but also people in 13 other states and seven countries. The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank searches first for a suitable transplant recipient locally. If a recipient cannot be matched, a search is conducted through eye banks in other states. Finally, if a recipient still cannot be found, an international search is conducted so that no transplantable cornea goes to waste.
“People sign up to be a donor for one reason,” Austin said. “That is to help others in the event of their death. Our sole mission is to fulfill that promise on behalf of our eye donors. It is such an honor.”