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SHORTAGE OF DONORS LENGTHENS CORNEA-TRANSPLANT WAITING LIST

SHARE SHORTAGE OF DONORS LENGTHENS CORNEA-TRANSPLANT WAITING LIST

Some 106 people, ranging in age from five to 95, all have one thing in common. Their names are on a waiting list to receive a cornea transplant from the Utah Lions Eye Bank at the University of Utah Hospital.

It's the longest list in eye bank history and could get longer due to a shortage of donors.It's not that people don't want to give.

Eye bank director Mary Jayne Stevens says that while many people have indicated a desire to be an organ-tissue donor by placing the "donor" designation on their driver's license, many times families aren't given the chance to honor the deceased's request.

"Many medical staff are hesitant to talk to families about the possibilities of donation," she said. "That apprehension is often unwarranted. Approximately 80 percent of the families approached about donation say `yes.' "

Stevens said the public is generally well educated about organ donation. Families who agree to donate often feel comfort knowing that their loved one is "helping two people regain their sight," she said.

However, at the time of death family members may forget about the sticker on the driver's license - and the medical staff usually doesn't discuss the option.

The tragedy of this is that cornea transplants have one of the highest success rates of all transplant procedures. Often called the window of the eye, the cornea is the clear outer covering of the eye and is roughly the size of a dime.

In the transplant procedure, the damaged or diseased cornea is removed and the donor cornea is grafted in its place.

Stevens said no tissue or blood typing is necessary for cornea transplants, although age of the donor and the recipient is a consideration. The corneas of donors from age 18 months to age 75 may be used.

"Cornea transplants give recipients a better quality of life. It allows them to be independent, self-sufficient - able to see," Stevens said. "Being a donor is one of the most benevolent things you can do - it's giving the valuable gift of sight anonymously."