The gift of sight
Your cornea is the transparent front part of your eye, and almost anyone can donate them. Saint Francis Hospice's patients are often surprised to discover that when they pass, they can too. Age, poor eyesight, or even a life-limiting illness are not necessarily barriers to donation.
Transplants can restore visual impairment and even reverse blindness. Eduard Zirm performed the first operation of its kind in 1905 in Czechoslovakia. One hundred and fifteen years later, there is a significant shortage of donations in the UK.
A donor: Sarah's story
Sarah Saunders was 43 and the mother of two young children when she arrived at our Hospice after a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer.
Dr Rory, our former Palliative Medicine Registrar, fondly known as the Eye Doctor, recalled her time with us:
"Sarah was a delightful lady and an absolute trooper. Every morning she would wake up ahead of her treatment and say: "Let's get on with it."
"I was amazed by how humble she was. Our lovely interactions helped us have open conversations, so I was comfortable with asking her if she'd like to donate her corneas. Sarah was grateful to be given a chance to give something to a living person."
"When we arrived at the Hospice, we were in a vulnerable and negative state of mind," explained Andy, Sarah's husband. "When we discovered that Sarah could restore the sight of others, it gave us something positive to focus on during an immensely sad time. It helped a great deal to know that someone else would be seeing the world through Sarah's eyes."
Sarah helped a 68-year-old woman and a 72-year-old man.
"To think that my wife continues to help people in death, as she continually did in life, is of great comfort," Andy revealed.
A recipient: Dr Adwoa's story
Adwoa Danso always dreamt of becoming a doctor. As a child, she would line her teddies and dolls up and tend to them with her toy doctor's kit. When she was 23, that dream came true.
Adwoa was prompted to see her optician when colleagues noticed that she was squinting. Expecting a prescription for stronger lenses, she was told that she was going blind in one eye and urgently needed a cornea transplant.
During the three-month recovery time, Adwoa realised that the little things — such as writing patients' notes or making a cup of tea — were actually incredibly significant.
"I'm extremely lucky," she said. "Many of my patients are awaiting a transplant, and I see how this delay impacts their lives. They often put everything on hold — just waiting for that call."
The reason for Adwoa's sight deterioration was keratoconus: a non-inflammatory eye condition. The exact cause of still is unknown, but it's believed to have been a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
One speculative is that it could have been caused by rubbing her eyes from hay fever. What Adwoa does know is that without a donation, it would have been near-impossible for her to travel the world and become a doctor. She's now done both.
Two corneas from one pair of eyes can help up to 10 people to see again.
If you or a loved one is under our care and would like to find out more, please speak to a member of our medical team or call 01708 75331.
If you're not under our care but would like to donate your corneas, please visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0800 432 0559.