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Have you pledged your eyes yet? (Expert speak)

Written by Dr Vandana Jain |Updated : August 26, 2014 11:44 AM IST

"Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see." -Helen Keller, famed deaf blind author.

Helen Keller belonged to the twentieth century and was not fortunate enough to get a second chance at eyesight. The good news is that we've stepped into the next century and so has the progress of medicine. People who are blind in their cornea can now hope to see again with a procedure called the Corneal Transplant in which the damaged opaque cornea is replaced with a clear cornea obtained from a donor.

So, what's stopping 4 million Indian people who are blind in the cornea see again? Unfortunately, we - the people with the gift of eyesight - who are to be blamed. What prevents us from donating the eyes of our near and dear ones when they die? That one act of kindness can give sight to two people.

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As of today, eye collection figures stand at around 20,000 eyes per year from approximately 400 eye banks across the country. Considering the fact that about 25,000 blind people are added every year due to disease, injury, infection or malnutrition, the numbers do not even meet up to our annual requirement, leave alone the huge backlog. This is one area where our burgeoning population can be an asset for us, but alas, we lose out on the battle thanks to our attitude.

A startling fact is that we still import eyes from Sri Lanka, a country that is 1/4th our size, not only caters to its own population, but also sends eyeballs to several nations of the world!

A few facts about eye donation

  • Eyes can only be donated after one's death.
  • Eyes have to be removed within four to six hours after death.
  • The donor need not be taken to the eye bank. The Eye Bank Officials will visit the home of the donor for no extra charges.
  • The entire procedure of eye removal does not delay the funeral, as it takes only 20-30 minutes.
  • People of any age can donate their eyes.
  • Eyes can be donated irrespective of whether the person had pledged his eyes or not.
  • The face is not disfigured by the removal of the eyes.
  • A small quantity (10 ml) of blood is taken from the donor's body for testing.
  • The eyes are evaluated by the eye bank personnel and the cornea is used for transplantation by a trained corneal surgeon.
  • Eye Banks are non-profit organisations. One cannot buy eyes. Patients are called in strictly according to the waiting lists.
  • The identities of both the donor and the recipient are kept confidential.
  • Each person can give sight to two individuals.

You can donate your eyes even if you:

  • Have undergone cataract surgery
  • Wear spectacles
  • Suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, tuberculosis etc.

Cornea cannot be used for transplantation if the patients are identified to be suffering from:

  • AIDS or HIV
  • Active Viral Hepatitis
  • Active Viral Encephalitis (Inflammation of the brain)
  • Rabies
  • Retinoblastoma (A cancer of the eye)
  • Septicemia (Bacteria in the Blood stream)
  • Active Leukemia (A type of blood cancer)
  • Other Infectious diseases

If there is a death in your family and you wish to donate their eyes:

  • Close the eyelids of the donor
  • Raise the head of the deceased individual slightly by placing a pillow below their head
  • Contact the nearest eye bank as quickly as possible
  • If the death certificate from the physician is available, keep it ready
  • Eye donation requires the written consent of the next of kin in the presence of two witnesses

What you can do:
Call your nearest Eye Bank and pledge to donate your eyes. You will be provided with an Eye Donation Card. You can also dial the 24 hour toll free number 1919 for eye donation.

Dr Vandana Jain is a Cornea and External Diseases Specialist and the Co-founder and Director of the Advanced Eye Hospital.

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