Cornea transplant is a surgical procedure aimed at removing all or part of an injured cornea and swapping it with healthy donated one. This procedure is also referred to as Keratoplasty which involves removing all or parts of that dome-shaped, transparent surface of the eye. This surgical operation can reduce pain, recover the appearance of ill or damaged cornea and even restore sight.
Although the majority of cornea operations are done without failures, the procedure has a small risk of problems. These risks include rejection of donated tissues by the recipient.
In the US, there are quite a number of centers that provide these services. However, you may need to travel to reach one from where you stay. It is good to note that many health insurance packages cover cornea transplant but that does not include the expenses incurred in travel for the operation. So, you need proper planning to put your travel expenses in check.
However, there are some charitable entities that assist patients that cannot afford to meet these travel expenses. They offer no-cost transportation for these patients.
If you already know where you will be going for a cornea transplant, or a consult or second opinion, click here to plan your travel. Otherwise, click here to get information about facilities that specialize in cornea transplant.
If you cannot afford travel for medical treatment, please consult our directory of charitable organizations that can help arrange no-cost transportation for you.
For more information: (links to the sections below)
- About Corneal transplant
- Where to Go for Corneal Operation?
- Cornea and its Functions
- How Cornea Transplant is done?
- Risks Associated with Cornea Transplant
- Do you need to travel after Cornea Operation?
- Looking for a Cornea Donor
Well, here multiple visits are requisite both before and after so people coming from long distances means they have to plan for multiple trips. About several months (18) is taken to enjoy the outcome. The procedure depends on the availability of deceased donors. The actual surgery cannot be planned in advance except for the fact that the patient has to travel for the last minute upon the availability of the deceased donor.
About Corneal transplant
Keratoconus, a condition that causes shape changes of the cornea, is the commonest reason why cornea transplants are done. Here are some of the conditions that can be corrected by cornea operation;
- Outwardly bulged cornea (keratoconus)
- Thinning of cornea
- Fuchs’ dystrophy
- Scarring of the cornea as a result of injury or infection
- Swollen cornea
- Clouded cornea
- Past eye surgery complications
- Ulcers of the cornea (even those that are as a result of infection)
Where to Go for Corneal Operation?
There are quite a number of places in the US where you can travel for cornea operation. In these centres, competent experts work closely with both patients and their loved ones. These professionals walk the patient and their loved ones from the initial assessments to completion and follow up care.
- Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center
Before the operation, you as a patient will be taken through the following;
- Thorough eye assessment. The doctor will make an assessment of issues that may lead to complications during or after operation.
- Take eye measurements. The doctor will have to take measurements and get to know what sizes of donated cornea that you require.
- Make a review of supplementsand medications that you have been taking. This is because you may need to discontinue some supplements or medications that you have been using before or even after your cornea operation.
- Treatment of other eye conditions. This is because other unrelated eye conditions such as inflammation, infections etc. may affect the success of your cornea operation procedure. The doctor will have to first deal with those conditions before you can be operated on.
Your eye specialist will take you through on the expectations during the operation procedure and discuss the risks involved in the surgery process.
Cornea and its Functions
Cornea is the outer layer (clear) at the fore of the eyeball. It functions as the eye’s window. Through the cornea, you can see the pupil and the iris. The cornea focuses rays of the light on to the light sensitive part of the iris called the retina. This image is then relayed to the brain.
In case cornea is injured or infected, it loses transparency or changes its shape. The loss of transparency means that light will be prevented from going to the retina, hence resulting to the blurred or distorted image being taken to the brain.
How Cornea Transplant is done?
The kind of cornea operation you need will dependent on the area of the cornea that has been affected. It is also dependent on the magnitude of the damage to the cornea. There are several interventions available for you;
- Full-thickness transplant, also called Penetrating Keratoplasty (PK)
- Replacement of the deeper back parts, also called Endothelial Keratoplasty (EK)
- Reshaping or replacement of the middle (frontal) and outer layers, also called Deep Anterior Lamellar Keratoplasty (DALK)
This procedure can be done under both local and general anaesthetic. Local anaesthetic means that only the area that is being operated on will be numbed and you remain awake. General anaesthetic means that you will be operated on when you are unconscious. This is an operation that lasts for an hour and you can leave the hospital the same day or get admitted for a day depending on your situation.
It is notable that in the operation for the transplantation of the outer parts, the donated new outer cornea is stitched. These stitches used to hold the parts in place for more than a year.
Stitches are not needed in EK operation. Air bubbles are used to hold the parts for a few days after which they stick to the deep cornea layer naturally.
Risks Associated with Cornea Transplant
Just like all other surgical operations, cornea transplant has risks associated with it. These risks include rejection of new cornea, further infections and increased sight complications. About 95 percent of PK in low-risk situations, especially Keratoconus are good to go for ten years. This procedure is relatively safe. However, there are severe risks as mentioned below;
- Clouding of the eye lens (cataracts)
- Infections of the eye
- Increased eye pressure (glaucoma)
- Rejection of donated tissues (because your immune system attacks donated tissue)
- Stitches problems (used to hold the donated cornea)
- Cornea swelling
Do you need to travel after Cornea Operation?
Recovering from a cornea operation is dependent on the type of procedure that you underwent. To fully recover from full-thickness procedure, it will take about a year and a half, so you need to travel to doctor for regular checkup.
However, one can possibly get contact lens or glasses before then. The DALK recovery is much faster while EK tend to be the bit slower in terms of recovery, taking months or even sometimes only weeks.
To improve the rates of recovery, it is usually important to take proper care of your eyes. In this way, you need to avoid rubbing your eyes or engaging in contact sport activities and going swimming till the doctor tells you it’s now okay.
As your eyes get used to the new cornea, sight will remain even worse than it was before the operation. You need to wait for some months before your sight improves. When the corneal outer layer is completely healed, your eye specialist will perform adjustments towards improving your sight. These adjustments include the following;
- Astigmatism– This is to correct the cornea unevenness. The stitches used to hold the donated cornea may lead to bumps and dips on the cornea making your sight blurry. Your eye specialist can work on this by loosening some stitches and tightening some.
- Working on sight problems– This involves correcting refractive errors like farsightedness and nearsightedness. These can be corrected by using contact lenses, glasses and in some instances, by laser eye surgery.
Looking for a Cornea Donor
Most cornea tissues come from dead people. Unlike in other organs like kidneys and livers, getting a cornea does not require too much wait. This is because, quite a number of cornea donors request that their corneas be made available for use by others after their death. This means that corneas are much available in comparison with other organs as earlier stated.
Corneas that are avoided for donation include the people who had certain conditions such as some central nervous system conditions, eye diseases or those with past eye operations. Corneas from donors who died of unknown reasons are also avoided.