If a cornea becomes cloudy, light is unable to penetrate the eye to reach the retina. This can result in decreased vision or blindness. A corneal transplant is done to replace a diseased or scarred cornea with a new one. Of all tissue transplants, corneal transplants are the most successful, with over 40,000 performed in the United States each year.
What to Expect
During a corneal transplant procedure, which lasts about an hour, the surgeon will remove the central portion of the cloudy cornea and replace it with a clear cornea, usually donated through an eye bank. Patients are given a mild sedative and the eye is numbed with a local anesthetic. A trephine, an instrument like a cookie cutter, is used to remove the cloudy cornea with a precise, circular cut. The surgeon places the new cut-to-fit cornea in the opening and sews it with a very fine thread, which is removed at a later date. Following surgery, eye drops will be needed for several months to help heal the eye.
DSEK Corneal Tissue Transplants
DSEK, Descemet’s Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasty, is a new form of corneal transplant surgery. It’s sometimes called a partial corneal transplant. Unlike a conventional corneal transplant surgery, DSEK uses a smaller incision, and stitches aren’t necessary. For this reason, patients usually experience faster recovery and have less follow-up visits. During the procedure, the surgeon uses special instruments to enter the eye through a less than ¼ inch incision in the cornea, or clear part of the eye. The back portion of the cornea is then replaced by a similar piece of healthy graft tissue from a donor. DSEK is not for all patients with corneal disease, so talk to your doctor about this option.