Mum urges families to talk about cornea donation

Wednesday 27th September 2017

Mum urges families to talk about cornea donation

Have you considered donating your organs and tissues when you pass away? If not mum Gilli Davidson encourages you to have that conversation now.

When Gilli’s nine year old daughter Niamh died from a rare kidney cancer, her family let the funeral director know that they wanted to donate her eyes. A gift which went on to save the sight of two young people thanks to the team at Queen Victoria Hospital.

Gilli’s family had already experienced organ donation when one of Niamh’s brothers had a heart transplant as a baby after contracting a serious chest infection. Following the recent media interest around organ donation, Gilli wants to encourage other families to have the important conversation about what they’d like to do when they pass away.

Gilli explains: “Too often people registering for organ donation tick the box that excludes their eyes. Maybe there is a squeamishness about eyes or maybe it is because they are such an important part of how we connect with people. I think if we can let go of those worries, it would mean our death or that of a loved one, can make a positive difference.

“When Niamh’s body came home after the donation, it hadn’t changed how she looked. The removal had obviously been done with care and respect. I have never regretted it. For us it was a way to make a positive out of the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

“Don’t leave having the conversation until the very end – talk to your family about organ and tissue donation. You are more likely to need a donor than to ever become one and if you would accept a donation, would you also consider being a donor.

“I have had some feedback from people who have changed their organ donor card to include eyes since hearing about Niamh and the difference she has made to the lives of two young people. Please say yes to corneal donation.”

Queen Victoria Hospital runs an eye bank service which facilitates the process of people donating their corneas when they’ve passed away, with also preparing corneas for transplantation. The team travel across Kent, Surrey and Sussex and are willing to speak to both professionals and families about how to have the important conversation on donation.

Queen Victoria Hospital’s Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, Damian Lake, explains: “At QVH we carry out around 250 cornea transplants a year, but there is a recognised national shortage of people donating their corneas after they die. It’s a myth that if your organs are not suitable for donation that you can’t donate your corneas, in fact your corneas are the part of your body you are most likely to be able to donate. We’d like to encourage people to have the conversation with their families and consider giving the gift of sight. We know first-hand that it’s a life-changing gift.”

Picture of Niamh reproduced with kind permission of Sarah Weal and Gilli Davidson.

For more information please contact the QVH Press Office on 01342 414508.

What is a cornea?

  • The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of your eye that lets in light so you can see.
  • It provides up to 75 per cent of our ability to focus. It also protects our eyeballs from dirt, dust and germs and filters some of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet waves.
  • The cornea can scar after infections, and disease or injury can cause loss of vision. Age and inherited conditions can lead to a cloudy cornea too. Any of these could mean the need for a cornea transplant.
  • The sooner the eyes are retrieved the better the transplant outcome. But, your corneas can be donated up to 24 hours after you die.