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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Corneal Transplant

What is a corneal transplant?

Corneal transplants are one of medicine’s most successful transplant operations. In the past 35 years, more than 250,000 corneal transplants have been performed in the United States. At Bascom Palmer, more than 250 procedures are performed annually. The procedure involves removing the cornea from the donor eye with a special instrument resembling a small cookie cutter. The same method is used to remove the damaged cornea from the patient’s eye. The surgeon then stitches the new cornea into place.

For many individuals, a corneal transplant may be the only hope for restored vision, and may be necessary when the cornea is cloudy or damaged due to disease, injury, accident, or hereditary conditions. In these situations, the cornea must be removed and replaced with healthy donor tissue. The procedure is successful in 90 percent of cases, restoring sight and, in some cases, even providing sight for the first time.

Members of Bascom Palmer’s corneal transplant team teach patients the acronym RSVP to alert them to potential problems. This RSVP alert is:

  • R: increased Redness
  • S: increased Sensitivity to light
  • V: decreased Vision
  • P: increased Pain

Today, regrafts are one of the most common reasons for corneal transplants. Regrafts occur when a patient needs a second corneal transplant because the first one was unsuccessful. Some additional reasons include:

  • Corneal ulcers, a type of infection that often leads to scarring
  • Trauma
  • Fuch’s Dystrophy
  • Damage to the epithelial layer of the cornea, through improper cleaning and use of contact lenses. Sleeping in contact lenses leads to a greater risk of corneal ulcers; the symptoms include eye pain, decreased vision, and redness.

What advances has Bascom Palmer Eye Institute made in corneal transplantation?

The physicians in the Corneal and External Disease Service have developed techniques and instrumentation to make corneal transplants safer for patients. They have developed instruments known as “trephines,” which are used to cut donor and recipient tissues. In addition, Bascom Palmer physicians and scientists have created special diamond knives to be used in surgery and have developed storage solutions to prolong the viability of donor corneas prior to transplantation.

Download the brochure for more information about corneal transplants at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.