Back to eye sight thanks to corneal donation

Many people who die in hospital, a palliative care unit or a hospice can donate tissue. A corneal donation is also possible in other suitable rooms of e.g. burial institutes due to the relatively long time window for tissue removal. The DGFG can realize this in all regions within 72 hours after cardiac arrest, whether in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony or Baden-Wuerttemberg. Even people with cancer, glasses or at old age can donate their corneas. Disease patterns such as cataracts, glaucoma, long- or nearsightedness as well as a corneal curvature are no exclusion criteria.

Basic requirements

  1. The notification of a potential tissue donor usually takes place via the deceased reports in the hospitals. If someone dies at home or is even already at the undertaker’s, relatives and the undertaker himself can report a potential donor to the DGFG at 0800 – 511 5000 (only for calls from within Germany).
  2. A doctor must have confirmed the death of the deceased without any medical doubt.
  3. The DGFG conducts an informative conversation with the relatives. If there is no written or oral will of the deceased, the relatives may also decide (§ 4 TPG).
  4. There must be no medical grounds for exclusion. These include serious neurological diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis), tumours of the haematopoietic system (e.g. leukaemia, myelodysplastic syndrome, lymphomas, plasmocytoma) or infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and C.
  5. For a comprehensive donor diagnosis a blood sample of the deceased must be available. The blood sample can be taken by a coordinator of the DGFG within 24 hours of death after the relatives have given their consent.

When are you too old for a corneal donation?

There is no upper age limit for the donation of ophthalmologic tissue (eye). Tissue removal is also possible in old age. A restriction applies to donors under 3 years of age. The majority of corneal donors are 75 years and older.

Does a corneal donation disfigure the face?

The eyeballs are removed during corneal donation. Glass prostheses in the eye colour of the deceased ensure the reverent and respectful restoration of the donor’s appearance. Angehörige haben die Möglichkeit, sich in gebührender Weise zu verabschieden. A laying out is possible, as is the performance of religious rituals.

When is corneal donation out of the question?

For reasons of recipient protection, tissue donation is not possible for certain diseases or infections. The medical service of the DGFG clarifies together with doctors and relatives whether a tissue donation is possible or whether there are reasons for exclusion. The exact procedure of a tissue donation can be read here.

What happens to the donation?

Corneal donation is a small surgical procedure and can be done within half an hour. It is organised in close consultation with the undertaker. The relatives do not incur any additional costs and there are no delays. After transport to a corneal bank, the corneas are evaluated, prepared and stored until transplantation. If desired by the relatives, the DGFG will provide them with anonymous information on the tissue recipient a few weeks after transplantation.

Tissue transplants improve the quality of life of many people. Corneal transplantation is the oldest, most common and also the most successful transplantation in the entire field of medicine. Around 7,000 times a year, doctors in Germany replace the diseased cornea with a human donor cornea. Transplant centres throughout Germany obtain corneas from the DGFG. Similar to organs, corneas, which belong to the tissues, are also in great need of donations. Even though the willingness to donate tissue has increased in recent years, patients still have to wait for a suitable tissue transplant.