Frequently Asked Questions

What is a cornea?

The cornea is the transparent tissue in front of the iris through which light passes to enter the eye.  In order to perform its optical functions, the cornea must remain crystal clear and have the correct shape.  The pupil which appears to be black , and the iris which imparts "the colour of the eyes" are inside the eye and can be seen through the cornea.  In addition to its optical functions, the cornea forms part of the outer protective coat of the eye, which maintains the shape and integrity of the eyeball.   Corneal disease and corneal injuries lead to blindness in millions of people worldwide and is a common cause of poor vision in South Africa.

What does a cornea transplant involve?

Corneal grafts are performed if  corneal opacity is severe enough to cause loss of vision, or in advanced cases of conical cornea.   In the procedure, a disc of defective cornea about 8mm wide is replaced with a similar piece from a donor cornea.  The surgeon works through a high powered microscope.  First a cylindrical cutting instrument that acts like a biscuit cutter, cuts out the damaged corneal tissue, leaving a hole.  A slightly larger circle is cut from the donor cornea and placed in the opening.  Using a nylon thread, finer than a human hair, the surgeon sews the donor cornea in place.  The operation has an extremely high success rate.

Who can become a cornea donor?

Anyone can become a donor.  People often think that they have to have good vision, but the truth is that corneas can be used even if a donor is older or wears glasses.    Persons under the age of 18 would require parental permission.  Exclusions would be positive virology results for infectious diseases such as HIV / AIDS, Hepatitis B or C and Septicemia.  

When and how are the corneas removed?

Ideally, corneas need to be removed within 6 - 12 hours of death.   This is done by trained Eye Bank Technicians and can be done at either the mortuary, the undertaker, the hospital or even at the home.   Because the procurement is performed mere hours after death, there is no delay in funeral procedures.

Is the body disfigured in any way?

No, great care is taken not to cause any disfigurement, and the eyelids are sutured shut after removal of the eyes / corneas.

What about my religion?

Most religions approve of cornea donation, but if in doubt, speak to your religious leader for guidance.

Is there a cost involved in donating my corneas?

No, it is a donation.   No cost is charged or remuneration paid to the donor family.  The donation often comforts the grieving family in knowing that they have been able to help 2 corneally blind recipients regain their sight.

Will the recipient family know who the donor is?

No, the confidentiality of both the donor and the recipient is protected by Law.