In 2016, Vision Share eye banks provided more than half the supply of U.S. donor corneas with over 20,000 placements. It has worked to build the largest network of non-profit eye banks in the world, with 13 members and 20 eye banks in the United States and a vast network of providers at home and abroad.
Eye on Research
Events happen fast in eye banking--corneal tissue is donated, procured, evaluated, processed, preserved, matched, delivered, and transplanted in as little as a day. Into this process go years of work--not only by the surgeons carrying out sight-saving procedures, but also by eye banking leaders who have built a reliable, efficient system to speed corneal tissue from procurement to placement all over the world, every day.
The largest of these eye bank networks is the non-profit, Vision Share, which offers eye tissue, eye banking expertise, education, and industry leadership in the United States and abroad.
Today, the organization is entering a time of industry-driven expansion. A new headquarters in downtown Chicago is surrounded by world-class, health-care institutions and universities. A growing staff is joined by its new president and chief executive officer, Philip Waitzman, MBA, MPH, MA, who is already working to expand capabilities aimed at making a “positive, meaningful impact in the ophthalmic community and focused on maintaining the integrity of the industry.”
During this period of change, its leaders continue to view the organization’s role as a world leader in eye banking. It is an honor, they say, to perform the behind-the-scenes work needed to make that one-day transition from donor to recipient, from blindness to sight. They continue to build on the organization’s 20-year commitment to eye banking through a set of carefully considered goals.
Building a Network
Eye banks can accomplish more together than alone. The organization has worked to build the largest network of non-profit eye banks in the world, with 13 members and 20 eye banks in the United States and a vast network of providers at home and abroad. Member organizations provide the expertise in recovery and preparation, while the organization offers an easy- to-use, yet sophisticated distribution network.
Together, the network and its members are able to meet local, national, and international eye tissue needs. In fact, the organization’s eye banks provide more than one-half the supply of donor corneas in the United States with more than 20,000 placements in 2016 alone.
Because the United States has more donor tissue than it requires for transplant procedures, the organization’s network reaches beyond borders to coordinate with domestic and international eye banks and surgeons to distribute donor corneas around the world. The non-profit’s efforts to raise transplant awareness and ophthalmic clinical competencies through collaboration with industry partners extend globally as well.
For the patients of Prof. Mohammed Belmekki, ophthalmologist at the Cheikh Zaid Hospital, Rabat, Morocco, the organization’s international outreach has made a marked improvement.
“In the past, my patients who needed corneal transplant surgery faced long waits of 6 to 12 months as we worked to obtain the necessary tissue,” Dr. Belmekki said.
“Since I began working with Vision Share last August, we have reduced that wait to under 4 months, and we have fewer patients on the waiting list,” he said. “We hope to reach a 1-month delay.”
For each patient whose vision is restored through corneal transplantation, there is an individual whose life was lost, someone who generously donated organs and tissues to help other people live longer, healthier lives. The non-profit’s mission emphasizes the importance of honoring the legacy of these donors.
“Consenting to donation is a selfless act of kindness, and we want families to feel confident that the tissue will reach its goal and make a dramatic difference in someone’s life with the gift of sight,” Waitzman said. “Before the tissue is captured, Vision Share’s professionals work with grieving families to make it clear that their loved one’s donation is appreciated, that it will be treated as the selfless gift it is, and that it will be used to restore sight in someone with severely impaired vision.”
To lead the world of eye banking, an organization must understand the clinical and practical needs of surgeons, even as procedures and techniques continually advance. Its goal is to provide transplant-ready tissue for all clinical procedures that require it. Doing so requires a team of professionals talented in eye tissue recovery, preparation, distribution, and placement.
The team offers surgeons tissue from donors of various ages, at a range of thicknesses to meet their surgical needs. All of the tissue offered by the organization are expertly processed and prepared for surgery.
Non-profit organizations view eye banking not as a business, but rather as a mission, an honor, and a responsibility. With this in mind, Vision Share embraces its role as a global driver and steward of standards for eye banking integrity.
“In our 20-year history, the goal. . . has been to demonstrate the standards of professionalism deserving of the donors, patients, and surgeons we serve, from procurement to placement,” Waitzman said.
For example, we require all members to achieve and maintain accreditation with the Eye Bank Association of America, which sets very high standards, he added.
“We also share our own expertise, knowledge, and educational resources to improve eye banking and ophthalmic industries around the world,” he said. “Our expertise exists to help enhance eye banking and ophthalmic therapies.”
As corneal transplant procedures evolve, surgeons need to learn new skills and techniques. It is part of the non-profit’s mission to play a role in improving transplant awareness and ophthalmic clinical competencies and participates in research studies.
The organization collaborates with industry partners to make information and education readily available through wet labs, training demonstrations, and continuing medication education.
The non-profit also works with professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Cornea Society, to provide donated eyes for its cornea meetings.
Helping to Find Cures
The ultimate goal of eye banking is to give people sight and, in doing so, help them have healthier, happier lives.
The organization accomplishes this by supplying donor tissue not only for surgery, but also for research into the causes and cures of blinding eye conditions, including new ophthalmic drugs, devices, and procedures.
The non-profit provides this tissue to research facilities in the United States and abroad with the confidence that it will help fewer people experience blindness in the future, furthering its mission to expand the positive impact of eye banks around the world.