Medical professionals want to see more eye donors - DO NOT USE

Medical professionals want to see more eye donors - DO NOT USE

Each year hundreds of New Zealanders need a corneal transplant to restore their vision and prevent blindness.

Their only hope is the gift of sight given by a donor and their family, but there's currently a real shortage of eye donors.

Mary Flett owes her sight to the generosity of unknown donors and says since having an operation on her eyes life has taken on a new perspective.

"It changed it completely," says Ms Flett. "I painted the house, I wallpapered the house, I do the garden, ice a few cakes."

Ms Flett has a disease of the corneas. She has needed both replaced several times. The last, a graft on her right eye, took place a few weeks ago.

"I feel very blessed that somebody has donated their eye to help me see."

Professor Charles McGhee carried out her surgery and says it's healing nicely. She was lucky to get in - a shortage of donated eyes has left him cancelling operations.

"I think people are very squeamish about thinking that if someone has died and it's their loved one and they're obviously going to be very upset and bereaved, 'oh they're now going to be disfigured' but when you remove the eyes and the eyes are closed it does not look any different," says Prof McGhee.

The cornea helps the eye to focus and replacing it is a simple, but delicate operation.

Louise Moffatt runs the country's only eye bank which is based at Auckland University.  All donated eyes are brought there to be stored, evaluated and sent out for transplants.

"We're required to supply about eight corneas a week," says Ms Moffatt. "The demand is higher than that so we need to supply more than one a day and that hasn't been happening in general terms."

A cornea can be kept for several weeks in storage. Sclera, the white part of the eye, can also be kept and used for reconstructive surgery. Up to four people can benefit from one donor.

"Many, many people in our countries can actually donate their corneas, they're suitable and that includes people with a lot of medical conditions," says Ms Moffatt.

And Prof McGhee agrees there needs to be more awareness.

"Technically, a number of people would be blind before we can get around to doing corneal transplants for them," he says.

And even though the work can be quite challenging, there's no doubt it's worth it.

"You make the blind see. I don't think that you can do any better than that."

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