The number of corneal transplants needed to restore vision keeps growing each year. Nationwide, ophthalmologists performed more than 48,000 of these procedures in 2013, about 10,000 more than five years prior. As this need continues to increase, organ donors who provide the eye tissue that makes these sight-restoring operations possible will become even more important.

In support of Eye Donor Awareness month this March, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is encouraging eye donation for corneal transplants by highlighting the importance of this life-changing surgery.

Often called the window of the eye, the cornea is the clear, smooth layer on the front of the eye that bends light, allowing people to see. Sometimes the cornea becomes cloudy or rough due to an eye injury, infection or a medical condition, such as Fuchs’ Dystrophy. A corneal transplant can help restore vision by replacing the damaged cornea with one from an organ donor.

Lorie Gordon needed a new cornea because of keratoconus, a condition in which the cornea bulges, causing distorted vision. Her sight deteriorated so rapidly in her left eye that she needed a prescription for her glasses every six to eight months, and worried that failing eyesight would prohibit her from driving and working. After consulting her ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions, she underwent a corneal transplant to get a healthy cornea. Now, Gordon still needs glasses, but she can see well enough to read books and magazines, and keep her job as a teacher’s assistant.

“I think it’s a miracle,” said Gordon, now age 49. “I’m able to see again and there’s no price you can put on that.”

Patients like Gordon receive donated corneas from their local chapter of the Eye Bank Association of America. The Eye Bank is the country’s largest network for recovering, storing and distributing eye tissue and corneas for donation, relying on organ donors who sign up through their state licensure program or a donor registry. More than 95 percent of all corneal transplant operations will restore vision in the recipient, making corneal transplants some of the most successful types of transplantation in medicine, according to the Eye Bank.

“Corneal transplants have been able to restore vision to people who previously had no hope,” said cornea specialist Stephanie Marioneaux, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Gordon’s ophthalmologist. “They can drive again, go back to work and live more fully thanks to eye donors, whose legacy will forever include helping others regain the precious gift of sight.”

For more information on becoming an eye donor, visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services organ donation website, www.organdonor.gov.

For more information on corneal transplants, keratoconus and general eye health, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s www.geteyesmart.org website.

Zusman Eye Care Center is a state of the art facility providing a variety of services ranging from routine eye exams to medical and surgical treatment of eye disease. Zusman Eye Care Center is located at 3430 Tamiami Trail, Suite A, Port Charlotte. For more information, call 941-624-4500.

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