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An eye donor is a person who has agreed to donate organs and tissues at the time of death. The cornea is typically the portion of the eye that is harvested from the donor and usually allows for an open-casket funeral if desired by the family. In very rare instances, an eye donor may be a living person who has lost the ability to see but whose cornea is still healthy. In spite of any verbal or written preferences of the eye donor, the final decision concerning donation is usually relegated to the nearest living relative, so it is important for a prospective donor to make wishes known to family and friends.
The cornea is the clear portion of the eye that translates light into vision and is the portion of the eye most commonly used during eye donation. In order to be useful for transplant, the cornea or other tissue is removed from the body within 12 hours of death. Removal of the cornea does not negatively affect the appearance of the donor body, allowing for an open-casket funeral if desired by the donor family. There are rare instances when a living donor may be used, and a doctor can help the patient decide if this is an option in an individual situation.
In many areas when a person decides to become an eye donor, paperwork can be signed when applying for or renewing a driver's license, and the license is marked accordingly. Alternately, a prospective eye donor can register with a private donation agency. In some situations, the donated eye can be banked for the use of a specific patient as long as the donor is an acceptable match.
For legal reasons, most eye donations require permission by the family, usually the legal next of kin. It is a good idea for anyone who wishes to become a donor to put these wishes into writing and tell family and friends of this decision. The choice to allow the donation is often easier on the family knowing that it was the express desire of the prospective donor.
Several factors influence whether the corneas or other parts of the eye are suitable for donation. Method of death, the presence of physical trauma, or a massive loss of blood are considered by the donation team. Blood tests and other procedures may be performed in order to make sure there is a match between the eye donor and the potential recipient. Specific questions about the procedure can be answered by the medical staff at the hospital.
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