A Brief History of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank

Dr Alson Braley
Dr. Jay Krachmer
Dr William Mathers

In 1954, Dr. Alson E. Braley, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa, saw the need for an eye bank in the Midwest and approached the Iowa Lions at the State Convention in Fort Dodge. They accepted the challenge, and the Iowa Lions Eye Bank was established at the University of Iowa Medical Center on September 13, 1955.

Dr. Braley served as the eye bank's medical director until his retirement in 1975, at which time Dr. Jay H. Krachmer became medical director. Under Dr. Krachmer’s direction, the program was expanded and thanks to the continued support of the Lions of Iowa, the Iowa Lions Cornea Center, which includes the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, was built in 1977.

In December 1982, Ruth Fisher retired from her position as the first executive director of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, and Patricia Mason was employed to assume that role.

Dr John Sutphin
Dr Michael Wagoner
Dr Ayad Farjo
Dr Kenneth Goins

In July of 1992, Dr. Krachmer left the University of Iowa to become the Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota. Dr. William D. Mathers was then appointed the Eye Bank's third medical director. In July of 1993, Dr. John E. Sutphin, MD, was named co-medical director and the Eye Bank continued to improve surgical techniques, increase the number of corneal transplants performed, and continued research into the causes of corneal diseases.

In February of 1996, the eye bank moved with the Department of Ophthalmology to new facilities in the Pomerantz Family Pavilion.

In November 1998, Dr. Mathers left the University of Iowa to go to the Casey Eye Institute in Portland, Oregon, and Dr. Sutphin assumed Dr. Mather’s position as medical director of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank.

Dr. Michael D. Wagoner joined the Eye Bank Team in July of 1999 and in August of that same year was appointed co-medical director of the Eye Bank.

The Iowa Lions Eye Bank saw many changes in eye banking through the years, including the doubling of its staff by creating coordinators and recovery specialists to help with handling of donor cases. By December 2000, there was a 113 percent increase in transplantable tissue, and the eye bank staff had increased to six full-time employees.

In October 2001, the Iowa Lions Eye Bank underwent its first FDA Inspection and was informed the organization was without deficiencies.

Growth and expansion of the eye bank necessitated its move in December 2001 to 2346 Mormon Trek Blvd, Suite 1500 in Iowa City, increasing its total space by nearly 4.5 times. The Eye Bank was honored by then Governor Tom Vilsack’s presence and support at its Open House in April of 2002.

2002 brought many changes in eye, organ, and tissue donation in Iowa, including First Person Consent legislation and the establishment of the Iowa Donor Registry, allowing Iowans to consent to donation either online or at the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) by marking “Yes” on their driver’s license.

In August of 2002 Dr. Wagoner left the University of Iowa to become medical director of the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital (KKESH) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Dr. Ayad A. Farjo was appointed assistant medical director though he moved to Wisconsin in June 2003, and Dr. Kenneth Goins was appointed assistant medical director.

Further expansion of the Eye Bank saw the opening of the first satellite office located at the Lions State Office Building in Ames in May of 2003.

After two years of negotiations, 2004 brought a new and energized relationship with Iowa Donor Network. It also brought the retirement of Patricia Mason on June 30th after serving for 22 years as executive director. Dr. Cindy Reed became the third executive director on August 1, 2004.

Cindy is responsible for providing leadership for all functions of the eye bank, including strategic planning and fiscal oversight.

In September 2005 the Iowa Lions Eye Bank celebrated its 50th anniversary.

In December of 2006 Dr. Kenneth Goins became the medical director when Dr. Sutphin left to become the head of Ophthalmology at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. Dr. Sutphin remains an emeritus professor of ophthalmology at the University of Iowa.

In April 2006, ILEB became the second eye bank to prepare Descemet’s Stripping with Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSAEK) tissue, a partial thickness cornea processing procedure that involves the use of an automated microkeratome to prepare the donor tissue. This graft is meant to replace the patient’s Descemet membrane and endothelium.

In 2007, ILEB prepared its first Laser Shaped Keratoplasty (LSK) grafts. These grafts have been laser cut using a pre-programmed algorithm to make cuts at specific depths to create specific corneal shapes to precisely match a recipient.

In 2008, ILEB took over space next door - expanding to 6500 square feet. The Iowa Lions Eye Bank celebrated its newly expanded and remodeled space at 2346 Mormon Trek Boulevard in Iowa City with an open house on Friday, October 10th. Over 75 people attended the tailgate-themed cookout and toured the eye bank facility. Invited guests included donor families and cornea recipients, friends and supporters of donation, local funeral directors, Iowa Lions Club members and officers, and U of I Healthcare faculty and staff. Cindy Reed, executive director of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, greeted visitors and ILEB full-time staff was on hand to host tours of the expanded facility. A special guest of the Open House was Ruth Fisher who served as the eye bank’s first executive director from 1955 until 1983. In July of 1954, Ruth underwent one of the first corneal transplants performed by Dr. Alson Braley, then head of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa and founding medical director of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank in 1955.

In August 2009, ILEB processed its first Descemet’s Membrane Endothelium Keratoplasty (DMEK) tissue with microkeratome, which allows surgeons to replace only the damaged endothelial cells of the cornea resulting in greater improvement in vision and shortened recovery time.

In December 2012, ILEB prepared its first DMEK “peel”, a manual dissection of corneal tissue via peeling the Descemet’s membrane and endothelium away from the stroma layer.

In 2013, ILEB moved into a new 14,000 square foot space at the University of Iowa BioVentures Center. All of its services are housed in one space.