Nowadays, for patients who have developed cloudiness of the cornea which significantly hampers vision, there exists an option of performing a surgery to replace the cornea. This surgery is called ‘corneal transplant surgery’.
Until 20-30 years ago, it was very difficult to successfully perform this surgery. However, over the years, significant improvements have been made in surgical technique, preservation of the tissue to be grafted, and medications that are available to the patient both during and through the post-operative period following engraftment. All of these have brought medicine to the point which it is at today where many corneal grafts are performed with relatively good success.
Nonetheless, this is a complex surgery, in which the patient’s turbid corneal tissue is removed and replaced with a transparent cornea that was obtained from a human donor (following the donor’s death). This surgical option is reserved only for patients whose corneal damage is extremely severe and thus justifies the risk that exists in such a transplant surgery. Presently, many corneal grafts are performed by ophthalmologists who specialize in corneal disease. For example, at our Ophthalmology Department Rambam Health Care Campus, corneal graft surgeries are routinely performed for eyes in which vision is obscured by an opaque cornea.
For whom is corneal graft surgery appropriate?
For those patients who have a relatively healthy eye (excluding the opaque cornea), and hence have reasonable visual potential. On the other hand, however, their cloudy cornea limits their vision significantly, only allows them to see in a blurry manner through the affected eye. The hope is that replacing the cornea for a healthy, clear cornea of a donor will result in a significant improvement in vision for that eye.
The surgery is a complicated and relatively long procedure, during which an expert surgeon sews the new cornea into the space that was left after removal of the patient’s original opaque cornea. Following the surgery it is necessary to take various eye drops. Additionally, following corneal graft surgery certain risks and complications exist, as with all extensive eye surgeries, more so when tissue is transplanted from one human being to another. At the same time, corneal graft surgery can be comparable to a miracle; it is a surgical technique which allows for something that until not so long ago was entirely impossible. There are many surgeries in ophthalmology that represent miracles, among them glaucoma, cataract and retina surgeries, that until not so long ago could not be performed with the expertise and success rates that are achievable today.
Corneal graft surgery was the first ophthalmologic surgery in which tissue was successfully transferred from one person to another. Other surgeries were added in its wake and we hope that with time it will be possible to correct more and more of the diseases and problems pertaining to the eye in different ways, including tissue transplantation and increasingly sophisticated surgical techniques.
Patients for whom corneal graft is considered are examined and followed-up by a corneal sub-specialist, including those at Rambam Health Care Campus. As soon as an appropriate cornea tissue is identified for transplantation, these patients will be urgently called, notified of the existence of tissue, and surgery will be arranged.