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Sight-Restorative Eye Donations and Transplants in Colorado and Wyoming Break Records

Sight-Restorative Eye Donations and Transplants in Colorado and Wyoming Break Records

Denver, January 18, 2018 — The number of eye donations in Colorado and Wyoming, and the number of sight-restorative corneal transplants performed as a result, were at an all-time high in 2017.

According to the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank, the nonprofit organization that facilitates the donation and transplantation of donated eye tissues in Colorado and Wyoming, there were 2,687 eye donors in the two-state area. Colorado accounted for 2,483 (83 percent) of those donors. Wyoming saw a new high with 204 (17 percent) of the total eye donors. The donations resulted in 2,692 sight-restoring corneal transplants. The numbers represent a 32 percent increase in eye tissue donations and a 31 percent increase in corneal transplants from just five years ago in 2012.

Robert Austin, a spokesman for the eye bank, said that the increase is due to several factors. “Along with Colorado’s population growth comes an increased number of deaths,” he said. Hospitals have a federal mandate to report all deaths to check if the patient is eligible to donate organs and tissues. The number of those referrals has increased nearly 9 percent since 2012 but they don’t completely account for the increase in actual donors and transplants because the percentage of those deaths eligible to donate eye tissue has remained fairly constant.

Austin points to other factors that have played a role as well. “Medical criteria defining who can donate was expanded by the FDA,” he said, “and the switch by hospitals to electronic medical records meant that we could evaluate potential donors faster and more efficiently.” There has also been a slight increase in the percentage of people in the two-state area who have joined the states’ donor registries.  

Corneal transplants are a cure for corneal blindness, which accounts for about 10 percent of all blindness in the U.S. While the impact on an individual is a given, the impact on our greater society cannot be ignored. A 2013 study by the Lewin Group determined the 2,000 corneas transplanted from eye donors in Colorado that year had an estimated lifetime economic benefit of $173,487,878 when compared with the costs of living with blindness or visual impairment.

Other types of donation in Colorado and Wyoming were also strong in 2017. Donor Alliance, the federally designated organ procurement organization for Colorado and most of Wyoming, also reported an increase in donations. There were 144 organ donors that resulted in 407 life-saving organ transplants. Another 1,752 people donated transplantable tissues such as bone, skin and heart valves.

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The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to fulfill the wishes of eye donors and their families to help another overcome blindness. The eye bank services donors in Colorado and Wyoming, with tissues placed for transplant in 32 states and 14 countries in 2017.