Eye donation for transplantation

Information for Nursing and Medical staff

Corneal transplantation is not a new procedure. The first ones were done in the late 1800s. The first eye bank was established more than 50 years ago. This procedure has been done routinely since the 1960s. Corneal transplantation is a surgical procedure performed by an ophthalmologist.

The cornea is the clear surface at the front of the eye. Should the cornea become cloudy from disease, injury, infection or any other cause, vision will be dramatically reduced. A corneal transplant is the surgical procedure which replaces the defective cornea with a similarly shaped piece of a healthy donor cornea.

Conditions that require a corneal transplant

The two most common reasons for requiring a transplant are bullous keratopathy and keratoconus. Other reasons include eye injury, herpes virus infection of the eye, corneal scarring due to trauma, hereditary or congenital corneal clouding, or severe bacterial infection.

Who can be an eye donor?

Almost anyone can donate eyes regardless of age, sex, race, or previous physical condition. Wearing glasses or having poor vision does not prevent eye donation. The eyes must be removed within 12 hours of death.

Patients with certain diseases, or who are at risk of these diseases, are not suitable eye donors.

How are the eyes used?

The cornea can be transplanted to restore or improve sight. Occasionally, other parts of the eye are used for reconstructive surgery.           

Who should approach the family?

The role of the Eye Bank Coordinator is to assist potential donor families to make an informed decision regarding eye donation. This is usually done over the phone. However, the nurse, doctor, or other health team member who is most familiar with the family may wish to make the approach. The most appropriate time to ask about eye donation, after confirming with the Eye Bank that a donor is needed, is usually when consent for autopsy is requested and mortuary information is obtained, (or earlier if possible).

How do you ask about eye donation?

Asking the question, ‘Have you ever discussed eye donation?’ is a comfortable and direct way to give the opportunity to a family. Then proceed with a careful, honest and thorough explanation. Remember the impetus for eye donation lies with the health care worker. Give the family the opportunity to consider donation. They should be assured that there is no wrong answer and that the decision is totally theirs.

Many families of donors have said that the act of donation provided consolation because they knew their loss touched the lives of others in a positive way. Their thoughtfulness made life better for someone else and at the same time provided them with some relief from their grief and pain.

Information the family may need to help them with their decision

  • their loved one will appear untouched
  • there will be no delay in funeral arrangements
  • the identity of both donor and recipient is kept confidential
  • the family will receive a letter of thanks from the Eye Bank of South Australia.

When consent is given

Even if you feel that the deceased’s medical history may exclude them from eye donation, do not hesitate to contact the Eye Bank on behalf of the family. The call may be important to the family.

  • Have the next-of-kin sign the Organ Donor Consent Form if it is available and/or contact the Eye Bank coordinator.
  • Elevate the deceased’s head and ensure the eyes are closed. The Eye Bank coordinator will arrive as soon as possible.
  • Eyes must be stored within 12 of hours of death.

If you have any questions, please call the Eye Bank of South Australia on (08) 8204 4928.

Contraindications to donation

  • viral hepatitis
  • acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or HIV seropositivity
  • viral encephalitis
  • Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease
  • death from an unknown cause
  • death from a central nervous system disease of unestablished diagnosis
  • leukaemia, lymphoma
  • some eye conditions (check with Eye Bank).

There are other rare contraindications. Please contact the Eye Bank for more information.

Please note: Refractive errors (ie wearing spectacles) is NOT a contraindication.


Contact details/Enquiries

Eye Bank of South Australia
Ophthalmology Department
Flinders Medical Centre
Bedford Park SA 5042
Phone: 8204 4928

Eye Bank staff are on call 24/7. The number above will be directed to a paging service for out of hour’s enquiries and referrals and an Eye Bank coordinator will respond to a page within 15 minutes.