A nationwide shortage of cornea donations may be eased in the next year by making people with laser surgery eligible for donations, says Honolulu ophthalmologist John Olkowski.
Patients with LASIK or PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) eye surgery have not been candidates for cornea donation because of the transplantation method, but a new surgical technique will change the restriction, said Olkowski, EyeSight Hawaii refractive and corneal specialist.
Due to unavailability, only about 130 corneal transplants a year are done in Hawaii on an average, said Shawn Wofford, Hawaii Lions Eye Bank executive director.
Wofford said there is a huge demand internationally for corneal transplants: "The World Health Organization says over 1 million people in China need a cornea. Australia has a one-year wait list."
The surge of laser surgery nationally has ruled out potential cornea donors, Wofford said. But Olkowski is among corneal specialists using a new surgical technique that does not exclude cornea donors with laser surgery.
Olkowski said corneal specialists for the last hundred years have transplanted the whole thickness of the cornea because the back layer or endothelium, which is most important for clarity, does not work.
However, for about 2 1/2 years he has been using a procedure called endothelial keratoplasty, replacing only the back layer, he said.
Olkowski said 10 to 15 percent of corneal specialists are using the new procedure and the number is growing.