According to the Georgia Eye Bank, Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale helped approximately 110 people regain their sight last year. On Wednesday, the organization honored the hospital for its efforts.
Victor Cooper, community relations coordinator for the Georgia Eye Bank, said Southern Regional ranks number five among 190 hospitals in the state for facilitating eye transplants, behind WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville. In 2008, Southern Regional procured eye tissue from 45 donors, he said.
"We have 18 hours from death to preservation," of an eye, Cooper said. "[The hospital] works with us in a timely matter to get the ball rolling. They also direct the families to speak with us in regards to their decision. We take the organ, analyze the cell count, put it through some tests, and make sure it is transplantable.
"We're just trying to reward the nurses and staff," Cooper added.
On Wednesday morning, he presented the hospital with a ceremonial plaque saluting its efforts.
Cooper said that misinformation about eye donation can sometimes turn away potential donors. He said educational outreach efforts through hospitals like Southern Regional are bringing donation numbers up.
"There was a recent movie with Jessica Alba called 'The Eye' that didn't help our cause," said Cooper. "We can't transplant a whole eye. The optic nerve ... it would be rejected by the nervous system. What we utilize is the cornea area. Up to four people can get their eyesight back from one set of eyes."
Cooper said the sclera, the white portion of the eye, can be used for cosmetic surgeries to help burn victims and that the whole eye can be used for glaucoma and cataract prevention research. He added that because the eye is an avascular organ - not associated with or supplied by blood vessels - people whose organs have been ravaged by cancer and other diseases can still donate their eyes.
Skip Wisenbaker, director of pastoral care services at the hospital, was one of the staff members present to accept the award from the Georgia Eye Bank. He said the fear of losing one's ability to see is powerful.
"I think we all like our independence," Wisenbaker said. "The idea of having a complete dependence on a cane, an arm, or another person is somewhat scary. Suddenly, the fog is lifted," when a person receives an eye donation.
Kathleen Peavy, a critical care nurse specialist at the hospital, said that eye donation is especially important to the Southern Crescent because of a high prevalence of diabetes. She said the negative side effects of diabetes include glaucoma, cataracts, and blindness.
"I think it's important that people know there is hope through donation," said Peavy. "Even patients with diabetes can be donors. The donations can't happen without consent. It's really giving the gift of sight."
Last year, the Georgia Eye Bank received more than 1,500 eye donations, 1,400 of which were used for transplant surgeries.
On the net:
Georgia Eye Bank: www.georgiaeyebank.org