TV3 News Corneal Eye Donation

15.30 minutes into the news below, is a piece on eye donation and corneal transplantation, by Eye Institute’s very own Professor Charles McGhee.

Each year hundreds of New Zealanders with failing sight need a corneal transplant, but as Emma Brannam reports there’s currently a real shortage of eye donors.
Mary Flett owes her sight to the generosity of strangers. Life has taken on a new perspective.

“It changed it completely. I painted the house; I wallpapered the house; I do the garden, ice a few cakes,” she says.

Mary has a disease of the corneas. She’s needed both replaced several times. The last, a graft on her right eye, took place a few weeks ago.

“I feel very blessed that somebody has donated their eye to help me see,” she says.

Professor Charles McGhee carried out Mary’s surgery and it’s healing nicely. She was lucky to get in; a shortage of donated eyes has left him cancelling operations.

“I think people are very squeamish about thinking that if someone has died and it’s their loved one and they’re obviously very upset and bereaved – ‘oh they’re now going to be disfigured’ – but when you remove the eyes and the eyes are closed, it does not look any different,” he says.

The cornea helps the eye to focus. Replacing it is a simple but delicate operation, as this close up of Mary’s eye shows.

This is the country’s only eye bank. All donated eyes are brought here to be stored, evaluated and sent out for transplants, and as you can imagine, the tissue doesn’t stay here long.

Louise Moffatt runs the bank, which is based in Auckland University.

“We’re required to actually provide about eight corneas a week. The demand is higher than that so we need to actually supply more than one a day and that hasn’t been happening in general terms,” she says.

A cornea can be kept for several weeks in storage. Sclera, the white part of the eye, can also be kept and used for reconstructive surgery.

Up to four people can benefit from one donor.

“Many, many people in our country can actually donate their corneas. They’re suitable, and that includes people with a lot of medical conditions,” says Mrs Moffatt.

Professor McGhee agrees there needs to be more awareness.

“Technically a number of people would be blind before we can get around to doing corneal transplants for them” he says.

And if anyone’s in any doubt about donating their eyes: “You make the blind see. I don’t think that you can do any better than that” said Professor McGhee.

Mary would attest to that.