There are 21 eye banks in Mumbai but only a handful in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. LV Prasad Eye Institute, Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital and Chiranjeevi Blood and Eye Bank are the well-known eyes banks in our city. Murali Krishnamachary Aasuri has worked at the LV Prasad Eye Institute between 1995 and 2003 and has started his own ophthalmic set up ‘Sulochana Eye Centre’ at Basheerbaug. He has performed adult and pediatric cataract surgery, complicated cataract surgery, LASIK surgery and corneal transplantation. He says, “When you donate your eyes, you have the privilege to donate sight to two visually disadvantaged people.”
Murali Aasuri says eye donation can be done by filling in a form to pledge your eyes and submitting it at an eye bank. You are given a donor card which has information and hotlines to be called. Murali stresses that one’s near and dear ones must be told to inform an eye bank within 6 hours of the donor’s demise. Often family members are so overwhelmed by grief that they overlook calling an eye bank even though it was the wish of the person deceased. The next of kin can also donate the eyes of a deceased relative even if he had not done so while he was alive.
Anyone can donate their eyes. Age is immaterial. It is the health of the corneal tissue that matters. Even the sclera or white of the eye is used in other eye diseases, for research and for training purposes. Spectacle users, those having had cataract surgery, even diabetics and hypertensive can donate. Many of the blind in India can have their sight restored through keratoplasty or corneal transplant. The transparent front portion of the eye is called the cornea. Eye color does not change after a corneal transplant. Injuries to the cornea are caused due to accidents, malnutrition, infection, chemical burns or congenital disorders. Babies are born with cloudy vision, children can damage their corneas playing gulli danda or lighting fire crackers.
A corneal transplant has a 90% success rate as there are very few blood vessels in the eye. The operation is done under local anesthesia, the patient’s unhealthy cornea is removed and a donor cornea stitched in place using a surgical thread which is 1/10th the thickness of a human hair. The patient’s hospital stay is only 1 or 2 days, in some cases, he is sent home on the same day! Antibiotics, steroid eye drops to control infection and prevent rejection, eye drops to keep the eye muscles relaxed and a painkiller are prescribed.
There was a spurt of eye donors a few years ago when Aishwarya Rai pledged her eyes but sadly the demand for corneas is far greater than the supply. There is a shortage of trained surgeons, technicians, cornea collection centers, transport facilities and necessary infrastructure. Celebrities should come forward to donate their eyes and create awareness. More volunteers are needed. Indian citizens can learn a lesson from neighboring Sri Lanka where most citizens pledge their eyes and corneal tissue from Sri Lanka is sent to other countries to give the gift of sight to visually challenged persons.