The decision to donate organs and tissues can be difficult but the outcomes of one organ and tissue donor can transform the lives of many people.
According to the Organ and Transplant Authority around 1,400 Australians are currently waitlisted for a life-saving organ transplant. And in 2017, 510 deceased and 273 living organ donors and their families gave 1,675 Australians a new chance at life.
Heart, lung, liver, kidney, intestine, pancreas, pancreas islet are all organs suitable for donation as well as tissue including heart valves and other heart tissue, blood veins, bone, veins, tendons, ligaments, skin and parts of the eye.
Eye tissue donation can allow the cornea and the sclera (the whites of the eye) to be transplanted.
The Eye Bank Association of Australia & New Zealand says that a majority of eye transplantations are for corneal repair and so, a majority of donations are corneas while sclera donations can assist other issues such as repair after a tumor is removed.
Corneal transplants are the most frequently performed human transplant procedure and in Australia in the last 10 years more than 10,000 corneal transplants have been performed.
The cornea has an important role in focusing vision and keratoconus is the main eye condition requiring corneal transplantation.
Melbourne rapper/hip hot artist Matt Colwell, aka 360, is one of 50,000 Aussies with keratoconus, a thinning of the central zone of the cornea, the transplant layer over the front of the eye. As it progresses, normal eye pressure causes the round shape of the cornea to distort resulting in significant visual impairment.
As previously highlighted on Good vision for life, Matt has undergone two procedures including a corneal transplant in the right eye and a relatively new procedure in the other, a transplant alternative called corneal collagen cross-linking.
Julie is another keratoconus sufferer and a successful recipient of a right eye corneal transplant. “I am able to live my life to the fullest now. I am able to see again and want to thank the donor,” she said in the DonateLife Book of Life, a collection of life-saving and life-changing stories from people touched by organ and tissue donation.
In another DonateLife story, at the age of 33 Daniel suffered a brain aneurysm followed by a massive stroke. After a 12-day struggle and a deteriorating condition, Daniel passed away. A registered organ donor, Daniel’s eye tissues gave sight to two others.
DonateLife Ambassador Denise Drysdale said that when her mother passed away at the age of 84, she consented for all her organs and tissue to be donated.
“They were able to use her corneas to give other people the gift of sight. The decision was easy because I believed so strongly in the good that could be achieved through donation and because I knew it was something she wanted”.
Almost anyone can donate – even if you have cataracts, poor eyesight, wear glasses and even some eye diseases do not prohibit someone from becoming a donor, says the Eye Bank Association of Australia & New Zealand.
Eye tissue will be carefully evaluated, along with the medical history of the donor to determine whether they can be transplanted. If they are suitable, donated eyes must be used for transplant and not for research unless permission is obtained from the donor and/or the donor family.
Science Daily reports that globally 10 million people require surgery to prevent corneal blindness and another 5 million people suffer total blindness due to corneal scarring caused by burns, lacerations, abrasion or disease. However, there is a significant shortage of corneas available to transplant.
As a result, scientists at Newcastle University, UK have 3D printed the first human corneas.
"It means the technique could be used in the future to ensure an unlimited supply of corneas," the publication asserts.
To create the 3D printed cornea, stem cells from a healthy donor cornea were mixed together with alginate and collagen to create a 'bio-link' that could be printed.
While an amazing breakthough, this technology will not overcome the urgent need for eye tissue donation now.
To become a donor, you should:
- Register by joining the Australian Organ Donor Register
- Talk to your family and ensure that they are aware of your wishes
- Ask your own family if they are willing to donate