National Eye Donor Month is observed every year in March. It promotes eye donation awareness and celebrates the lives of eye donors and corneal recipients. This month is also a celebration of corneal surgeons and the families of those who give the gift of sight. Every year, over 48,000 Americans have their sight restored through corneal transplants. This is made possible thanks to the generosity of over 70,000 eye donors every year. To honor the donors’ decision to donate their corneas upon death is the focus of the Eye Bank Association of America’s (E.B.A.A.) annual National Eye Donor Month commemoration.
History of National Eye Donor Month
Since the dawn of time, humans have had the ability to see. However, the practice of eye donation and surgery to help with visual impairment didn’t come until much later. Eduard Konrad Zirm, M.D., accomplished the first successful full-thickness corneal transplant in the early 20th century. This sparked a long period of research and development in the corneal transplantation area, resulting in the creation of novel procedures. During its existence, Zirm’s eye bank served over 47,000 patients.
Donated eyes are collected, prepared, and distributed by eye banks for cornea transplants and research. Eye banks currently offer tissue for over 80,000 cornea transplants in the United States each year to treat various ailments such as keratoconus and corneal scarring. The white of the eye is sometimes used to surgically restore the recipient’s eyes. The retrieval of organs or tissues from a deceased organ donor is referred to as ‘recovery.’
Although ‘harvesting’ and ‘procurement’ have been used in the past, they are now regarded as unsuitable, harsh, and possibly inaccurate terms. When an organ/tissue donor passes away, the donor’s next of kin or a donor registry is contacted to get authorization for donation. The donor’s eyes are then recovered by a recovery technician who is dispatched to the hospital, funeral home, or medical examiner’s office. The entire region of the eye, known as the ‘globe’ can be surgically removed, or simply the cornea can be excised in-situ and stored. In eye banking, several storage media are used such as commercial preparations and organ culture media. The eye tissue is then taken to an eye bank to be examined and prepared.
The Eye Bank Association of America (E.B.A.A.) has established comprehensive medical standards for eye banks and standardized the training and certification of eye bank technicians. National Eye Donor Month celebrates the work of those in the E.B.A.A. and everyone else that makes giving the gift of sight possible.
National Eye Donor Month timeline
Eduard Konrad Zirm conducts the first successful cornea transplant.
R. Townley Paton establishes the world’s first-ever eye bank.
The Eye Bank Association of America is founded.
President Ronald Reagan declares March as National Eye Donor Month.
National Eye Donor Month FAQs
Is the entire eye used for transplantation?
No, the cornea is used for eye transplants. The rest of it goes towards research and development of the organ.
What is a cornea?
The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer; a clear dome-shaped tissue that covers the front of the eye.
What happens if the cornea is damaged?
Diseases and injuries of the cornea cause clouding and scarring which blocks light from entering the eye, diminishing vision.
How to Observe National Eye Donor Month
Learn about eye donation
Take the time to learn about eye donation and the way it can have an impact on someone’s life. The E.B.A.A. has a resource bank with information and material to learn more.
Share and see stories
Many people have had life-changing experiences thanks to eye donation and have shared their stories online. Read about these incredible stories and share them to raise awareness.
Give the gift of sight
If you have done your share of research on the topic and would like to be an eye donor, you can take this time to find out more about it and learn how to register. It’s an honorable gift to give to someone.
5 Interesting Facts About Eyes
They are complex
The only organ more complex than the eyes is the brain.
They can multitask
Our eyes focus on 50 different objects every second.
They can be scary
Ommatophobia is a fear of the eyes.
There’s a lot more than we see
One-sixth of the eyeball is visible to us.
It can’t do everything
It’s impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.
Why National Eye Donor Month is Important
It can change people’s lives
Eye donation can change someone’s life. It can give them a gift that enables them to live their life to the fullest.
It’s a difficult field
For everyone involved in the process of eye donation and transplantation — from the patients, surgeons, and families to the researchers and other practitioners — it is not an easy process to be a part of. That deserves recognition.
It encourages donation
Learning about the impact that an eye donation can have and hearing people’s stories, along with thorough research and knowledge on the topic, can encourage more people to register to donate. Help make an even bigger change in the world today.
National Eye Donor Month dates