While many cannot see, the cure to their visual impairment is neither out of sight nor out of reach.
The key to sight restoration is an inexhaustible resource – a delicate membrane in the human eye called cornea.
The cornea is the eye’s first line of defense. It is the clear or transparent part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber. It is part of the eye’s protective covering.
Once this thin, delicate layer is damaged, blindness is sure to follow.
The problem of corneal blindness is very real worldwide.
An estimated 20 million people are cornealy blind around the world, but around eight million of them could be helped by a corneal transplant.
Quite sadly, only 100,000 transplants are performed throughout the world, with half of these done in the United States.
The main hindrance is the sheer lack of transplantable corneal tissue.
Most common causes of corneal blindness needing transplants are trauma, infections, complications of cataract surgery, glaucoma, keratoconus (abnormal shape of the cornea), and dystrophies genetic abnormalities that cause corneal to get hazy.
The Philippines is a country of around 100 million people; ironically, it is in short supply of corneas available for donation to those in need.
As our population grows, demand for corneal tissue is also growing. Thus, more people need to donate.
Donation is not disfiguring: Corneal tissue “harvested” after death is very small, roughly around 14 mm in diameter and less than 1 mm in thickness.
Corneas are like contact lenses. As they are removed from the deceased, eye caps replace the retrieved corneas so that the eyeballs are not sunken, and the dearly departed can still be viewed by family members, other relatives, and friends in an open casket.
The dire need for corneal tissue for transplants all throughout the country led to the founding by Dra. Minguita Padilla Lopez of the Eye Bank.
The unending search for corneas is close to the heart of Doctor Padilla-Lopez
As a resident physician in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Philippine General Hospital from 1987 to the end of 1989, she witnessed the utter frustration and desperation of patients who needed corneal transplants but who had to be invariably turned away simply because there was no corneal tissue available.
And the most heart-braking part is that many of these patients were children or young adults who had gone blind due to infections or trauma.
All throughout the country, there was virtually one standard answer doctors gave to those who needed corneal transplants — a cold rejection that went this way: “Your (or your child) need a corneal transplant. But we have no corneas as of now. We would just put you on the waiting list, and we would give you a call as they become available.”
But the much-awaited call would not almost always come, and patients would wait indefinitely in vain for even that remote chance to see again through a corneal transplant.
Dr. Padilla- Lopez knew that it was only through the establishment of a working eye bank that there could offer the hope of addressing the problem.
This led her to gather a group of like-minded doctors to form the core group that would form the
Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines, incorporated on March 17, 1994.
Through donations from private individuals and training from the International Federation of Eye and Tissue banks, the Foundation was able to open its medical eye bank, namely the Santa Lucia International Eye Bank of Manila, a little over a year later, at the Makati Medical Center.
This eye bank eventually moved to the National Eye Center (the SOJR building) at the PGH in 2005, where it continues to be housed.
Supporters of the Eye Bank are Che Che Lazaro, who is herself a corneal transplant patient and happy to talk about it; Ali Sotto, who donated the corneas of her son Miko to the Eye bank; Celo Perez, the brother of actor AJ Perez whose corneas were also donated to the Eye Bank after his sudden death from a vehicular accident, and others.
Many people are actually now carrying donor cards in the form of their driver’s licenses or formal organ/tissue donor cards.
The Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines is a non-profit, humanitarian NGO founded in 1994 and which has a medical eye bank called the Santa Lucia International Eye Bank of Manila that started operations on Oct. 16, 1995.
The medical eye bank was named after St. Lucy (Santa Lucia), patron saint of vision, upon the request of one of its main benefactors who helped fund its equipment in 1995, namely Dr. Robert Caro from New York.
It is currently located at the Second Floor, Sentro Optalmologico Jose Rizal, PGH Compound, Taft Avenue Manila.
Since 1995 the SLIEB has supplied transplantable eye tissue throughout the country through the kindness of partners. Philippine Air Lines, Cebu Pacific, and LBC which transport eye bank eye tissue (cornea and sclera) to all their destinations for free.
The SLIEB is the only eye bank in the country that is performing this task of supplying transplantable corneal tissue and scleral tissue for the entire country.
Since its inception, the eye bank also has supplied corneal tissue free of charge to all indigents patients. This means it waives the processing fees and absorbs all the costs for the retrieval, preparation, storage and transport of the eye tissue.
Fifty-percent of patients served by the eye bank in the Philippines are Indigent.
“We are hoping the PHIC (PhilHealth) will soon be able to pay for the processing of corneal tissue as is the case in other countries. This will help greatly in the fight against corneal blindness,” Dr. Padila-Lopez said.[pq]If you have a driver’s license, please check the back and tick on the portions of your body you wish to donate after death. Please TELL YOUR LOVED ONES ABOUT YOUR DECISION SO THAT WHEN THE TIME COMES, THEY KNOW.[/pq]
[pq]Making an organ or tissue donation part of your estate or legacy planning should be encouraged, according to Dra Pafilla – Lopez.[/pq]
“It would be great if memorial plans could include these in the plan. What a great gift this would be,” she said.
But donating your loved one’s corneas or other organs for that matter not only helps the beneficiary and their families; it also helps a lot in the grieving process by adding meaning to the death of a loved one; ensuring that part of the loved one lives on and his or her legacy lives on, especially when the departed loved one was a generous and giving person herself; and it does so much good for others, many of whom are desperately waiting for the chance to see again or the chance to prolong their lives in case of vital organ transplants.
Who can donate: Virtually anyone can donate, even those who need to wear eye glasses can donate, including patients with diabetes and cancer
Eye/cornea donations may be done by signifying an intention through their driver’s licenses; signing various donor cards (eye bank, HOPE, NKI, PHILNOS); and donating the corneas of their loved ones after death (donor cards not necessary). These can be done at the hospital or at the funeral home before embalming.[pq]Corneas can be retrieved up to 12 hours after death (although much better if before 10 hours), and this can be done even at the morgue.[/pq]
The Eye Bank has several partner hospitals with whom MOAs have been signed. These include:
- East Avenue Medical Center;
- National Kidney and Transplant Center;
- Makati Medical Center;
- St. Luke’s Medical Center, Global City;
- Philippine General Hospital;
- Mary Mediatrix Medical Center in Lipa, Batangas;
- Vicente Soto Memorial Hospital in Cebu; and
- funeral homes such as Arlington and National and Loyola.
The eye bank staff can retrieve corneas in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Northern Luzon, and Southern Luzon. It also has a trained staff in Cebu.
The EBFP may be contacted through (02) 3026282, (02) 3026287
Fax: (02) 3026285
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
(The above-mentioned website has a link to a Unionbank account for donations. All donations to the eye bank are fully tax deductible as the Foundation is an accredited member of the Philippine Council for NGO Certification).