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Now I See

Lions support scores of eye banks around the world that assist people who are visually impaired.

Lions support scores of eye banks around the world that assist people who are visually impaired.

Now I See

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Touchstone Story #46

In 2012, Kevin Braine, underwent a corneal transplant to restore sight to his right eye. The former Apache helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army had first lost vision in his eye two years earlier when it was struck by a piece of glass. But only after undergoing the operation—which replaces the transparent tissue that covers the eye—did Blaine discover where the donor cornea had come from: the Lions Eye Bank of New Jersey. The eye bank stores and distributes donated corneal tissue so that people with damaged corneas, like Braine, can have their sight restored.

Access to corneas, however, wasn’t always so easy. Although ophthalmologist Dr. Edward Zirm performed the first successful corneal transplant in present-day Czech Republic in 1905, for decades there remained no good way to process, store and distribute the transplant tissues.

That all changed in 1944 when Dr. Richard Townley Paton, an eye surgeon at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York partnered with Dr. John McLean of New York Hospital and established the world’s first eye bank in New York. Formally organized in December at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, the bank worked with 19 area hospitals to collect healthy corneas from people who pledged their eyes in advance of their deaths. The bank, soon known as Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration, processed and distributed the corneas to grateful recipients.

Eager to promote corneal transplants, the Central Staten Island Lions Club established the Sight Restoration Society, and Lions determined to help people in their communities receive the transplants. Through fundraisers, including raffled refrigerators and scooters, the Buffalo Host Lions Club in upstate New York raised more than US$10,000 to help establish the Buffalo Eye Bank and Research Society Inc. in 1945. It was the second eye bank in the United States.

Other clubs followed suit. Initially corneas had to be used within only a few days of removal, but as technology and development of products and procedures improved, corneas could be stored safely for longer periods of time. In March 1984, the Lions Clubs International Eye Bank Program was officially adopted to help standardize Lions policies and help establish new eye banks. Half of the eye banks in the Eye Bank Association of America today were established by Lions. By 2015, Lions had opened approximately 55 Lions Eye Banks around the world.

Lions clubs support many more eye banks in their own communities, and during the first week of December each year, Lions raise awareness of the benefits of corneal transplants and the role of eye banks in donation and research through Lions Eye Bank Week. Today, thanks to Lions’ early vision for eye banks and continued support, thousands of people each year can say, “I see!”

Lions support scores of eye banks around the world that assist people who are visually impaired.

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