Give the Gift of Sight...

Eye Bank logoIf you can read, drive, watch the delight on a child's face, or gaze at a sunset...

Think how the gift of sight can make a real difference in someone's life.

Eye donation is a precious gift given by a generous donor and their family.

New Zealand National Eye Bank

New Zealand National Eye Bank is a charitable non-profit organisation dedicated to the prevention of blindness by the provision of donated corneal and other tissues.

Established in 1989, the Eye Bank has supplied over 4,700 corneas to New Zealanders - currently around 250 people require a corneal transplant each year.

Without doubt, the recipients are grateful to the donor and their family for their renewed quality of life, and the service provided by the Eye Bank achieves significant health and cost benefits for the community.

What tissues does the Eye Bank supply?

  • Donated eyes provide corneas for sight restoration, where the cloudy or diseased cornea is replaced by a clear, healthy donor cornea.

  • Sclera (the tough 'white' part of the eye) can also be used for reconstructive surgery following trauma or tumour removal.

  • Amniotic membrane derived from the placenta can be used to provide a 'living bandage' for ocular surface disorders following infection, injury or disease process.

Why do people need corneal transplants?

To be functional, the cornea must remain transparent and rounded in shape.

Each year, over 250 people, from the young to the elderly, require a corneal transplant because of disorders where the cornea becomes cloudy, scarred, infected or distorted in shape. Unlike with modern artificial lenses, there is no artificial cornea, therefore a viable cornea from a recently-deceased person is the only option. Without a transplant, many of these people would become blind or severely vision- impaired.

What corneal disorders require a transplant?

  • Keratoconus - an acquired disorder where the cornea becomes thin and distorted (conical), which usually begins in the teenage years. Nearly 50% of transplants in New Zealand are performed for this disorder.

  • Bullous keratopathy - swelling and cloudiness of the cornea, often painful, and associated with other disorders e.g glaucoma and cataract

  • Dystrophies - genetic disorders where the cornea becomes cloudy and dysfunctional

  • Viral and bacterial infections - inflammation, ulceration and scarring can be serious and require transplantation

  • Trauma, chemical and thermal burns - often an emergency procedure to save the eye

What does the Eye Bank do?

The Eye Bank is responsible for all aspects of the process of providing safe, quality tissue to ensure maximum success for the recipients. The Eye Bank operates a comprehensive Quality Assurance system conforming to the highest international standards for safe tissue, and the highest ethical standards for ensuring respect and consideration of the donor's gift.

The service comprises:

  • Coordinating referrals of potential donors from hospitals, Coroners services, rest homes and directly from people in the community

  • Determination of medical suitability and obtaining informed consent for donation

  • Retrieval of tissue, where the donor is always treated with dignity and respect

  • Processing & preservation of tissue to maintain viability - corneas are incubated for up to 3 weeks

  • Testing of donor blood and tissue for infectious agents

  • Evaluation of tissue by microscope - the tissue must meet strict criteria before release

  • Scheduling of transplants with corneal surgeons in public and private hospitals

  • Distribution of tissue to transplant hospitals throughout New Zealand

  • Education of hospital staff and Donation Awareness programmes

  • Correspondence with, and support of, donor families and recipients

Who is suitable for eye donation?

Just about everyone aged 10 - 85 years. As for other forms of donation, a person must be screened to exclude infectious diseases and other medical disorders which may affect safety or quality of tissue. People with cancers (except leukemia and lymphoma), heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes can be eye donors. Most eye problems not involving the cornea will be suitable e.g glaucoma, retinopathy, cataract, vision problems requiring glasses or contact lenses.

How do people become eye donors?

If determined to be suitable by medical staff or transplant coordinators, the family of the deceased can be approached with the option to donate the eyes. Consent is always required from next-of-kin, so it is important that people discuss their wishes with their families.

Donation does not delay funeral arrangements, and there is no visible difference to appearance. The donation must occur within 24 hours of death occurring. Various tests and evaluations need to occur, but over 90% of tissue is suitable for transplant. Tissue that does not meet criteria can be used for valuable research or teaching purposes.

How is the Eye Bank governed and funded?

The Eye Bank is governed by a Board of Trustees, composed mainly of ophthalmologists representing the principle health regions of New Zealand. They are elected annually by the Save Sight Society.

The Eye Bank receives only a quarter of its funding from the Government. A part charge to hospitals covers the cost of tissue testing and laboratory expenses. However, extra funding must be raised by donations and fund-raising to purchase equipment and produce publicity and educational materials.

How can I help the work of the Eye Bank?

  • Make a financial donation or provide sponsorship. Financial support by individuals and organisations is vital to the on-going costs of the service. We welcome your donations and sponsorship options are available.

  • Raise awareness in your community. Can you distribute brochures, organise meetings or raise funds in your area, organisation or community group?

  • If you are a health professional: Your assistance in promoting eye donation at your hospital or community facility would be welcome. We can provide comprehensive training, information and guidance.

  • Discuss your wishes concerning being a donor after your death. Your family are always asked for their consent for donation of tissue or organs. Discussing your wishes with them can help ensure your wishes are carried out. Knowing of your wish makes it easier at a sad and difficult time.

All you need is a desire to help.

  • Donating your eyes - and other organs or tissues if suitable - can restore sight and health to people in need.

  • Donating money or making a bequest supports the valuable work of providing the gift of sight.

  • Donating your time can help with the establishment of donor programmes.

Share the vision - help give the gift of sight.

Contact Details...

The Eye Bank can be contacted at any time for questions, information or referral of potential donors - we are happy to assist, and we welcome your support.

New Zealand National Eye Bank
Department of Ophthalmology
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland Mail Centre
Auckland 1142
(09) 373 7537 [24 hours]
(09) 373 7495
Contact the Eye Bank