Catherine Best, Practice Educator, shares with you the importance of eye donation and how she is working collaboratively to reinstate the eye donation programme at Saint Catherine’s Hospice, in Scarborough.

Prior to the onset of the Covid pandemic, Saint Catherine’s Hospice healthcare team worked closely with patients and families to support their decision to give the gift of sight.

Today, the hospice is on the cusp of relaunching their eye donation programme.

We use our eyes to tell stories. We witness love, kindness and compassion through our eyes. Equally, we demonstrate all these emotions through our eyes and many more. No wonder eye donation is such an emotive subject.

Understanding that patients may wish to donate but don’t know how, relies upon the skills of a compassionate and confident healthcare professional to recognise when a patient may wish to explore the subject. It relies on the healthcare professional to openly encourage dialogue, through which patients are able to discuss their wishes freely and reveal areas of concern.

Eye donation is in fact a type of tissue donation and while the whole eye needs to be removed in the procedure, rather than the whole eye being transplanted, it is the donor’s corneas that are used.

The cornea, found at the front of the eye, is the clear outer layer that helps the eyes focus light, enabling sight.

For many healthcare professionals working in a hospice setting, being asked questions about eye donation or even discussing eye donation can present a degree of anxiety.

Catherine Best

Cornea donation facts:

  • One donor can help up to 10 people, helping restore or improve their vision and allowing them to see their friends and family properly again.
  • People with poor eyesight can still donate their corneas.
  • People with most types of cancer can still donate their corneas.

Many families are concerned that their loved one may be disfigured after eye removal. This action however is undertaken by specialist members of the healthcare team with the knowledge that eye donation comes from a significant wish to help others.

Furthermore, prosthetics or eye caps can be used successfully to maintain the shape of the face and eyes and so donation does not affect the appearance of the deceased, or delay funeral arrangements in any way.

However, for many healthcare professionals working in a hospice setting, being asked questions about eye donation or even discussing eye donation can present a degree of anxiety.

As the practice educator at Saint Catherine’s, I have worked collaboratively with my colleagues and specialists to understand the complexities and anxieties associated with eye donation, and as a result, I am better equipped to manage such anxieties as they emerge.

So, if you work in an environment where cornea donation may be a possibility, such as a hospice, a hospital or a care home, I urge you, don’t just think it’s someone else’s job to answer the questions that patients and families may ask. Instead, gain insight into eye donation; speak to specialists to learn more. Become an advocate for eye donation.

We may not all be confident in discussing cornea donation with patients and their families, but we can learn to do things such as include leaflets in bereavement materials and patient information packs; understand what it means to lose the function of the cornea and how essential it is that more people receive ‘the gift of sight’.

If you wish to understand more about how to establish an eye donation programme, please e-mail me at: [email protected]

You can also visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk/helping-you-to-decide/about-organ-donation/get-the-facts/cornea-donation/

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