Image of greiving mother holding her childAs more and more Americans choose to utilize hospice services at the end of life, hospice caregivers play an increasingly critical role in eye donation. In 2014, 55% of Iowans chose to utilize hospice services at the time of death. Approximately half of these individuals were registered donors, yet less than 10% of eye donation referrals received each year come from a hospice setting.

Ways to help ensure that all patients are able to fulfill their donation wishes:

  • Upon intake, provide all families with the ILEB Eye Donation Information Pamphlet. This gives patients the opportunity to think things over and discuss donation with their families.
  • Refer all deaths to Iowa Donor Network’s 24-hour referral line at 1-800-831-4131. Print the ILEB hospice caregiver quick reference guide. Our screening experts are the best source of information regarding whether an individual is eligible for donation.


Yes – we have had legally blind donors who were able to restore someone’s vision.

The cornea is the only part of the eye that is used for transplant, so many common eye conditions such as cataracts or previous cataract surgery, glaucoma, and a history of LASIK surgery do NOT prevent an individual from becoming a donor.

Many of our donors have died from cancer, heart disease, heart or respiratory failure, and other diseases. We encourage hospice caregivers to refer all potential donors, regardless of their medical history.

Donor requirements for cornea transplant are unique compared to the donation of other tissues and organs, largely because no blood or tissue matching process is required for cornea donation. A donor cornea can be transplanted into any recipient, regardless of the recipient’s age, race, and blood type.

If the death occurs close to a research facility, it may be possible for the individual to become a donor, regardless of their age. However, if the corneas are intended for transplant use, we are unable to recover from donors over the age of 75.

Approximately 48,000 cornea transplants take place each year in the United States, restoring sight to patients suffering from corneal problems and deteriorating vision. Each year, the Iowa Lions Eye Bank receives hundreds of letters from grateful recipients who now have their lives back because a generous donor made the selfless decision to give the gift of sight.

Many families who lose their loved ones also find that donation can help with the grieving process. They take comfort in knowing their loved one’s legacy lives on through the gift of sight.

Prospective donors may indicate their intention on the Iowa Donor Registry and/or by marking yes to be an organ donor on their driver’s licenses. This legally records his/her donation intentions and verifies that this decision will be honored at the time of death.

At the time of death, the next-of-kin can also provide consent for donation. We encourage all potential donors to inform family members and loved ones of their wishes.

The donation process starts with you. At the time of death, hospice caregivers should call Iowa Donor Network’s 24-hour referral line at 1-800-831-4131. IDN or ILEB will evaluate the patient’s donor registry status and medical suitability.

Corneas used for transplant must be recovered within 24 hours of the donor’s time of the death. The recovery process typically takes 1-2 hours and can occur in a patient’s room or at a funeral home. An eye bank professional is dispatched once consent is obtained from the family.

We ask that caregivers do NOT release the body until the recovery has been completed, unless arrangements have been made to complete the recovery at the funeral home.

Hospice caregivers may be asked to prepare the body for eye recovery by:

  • Elevating the head
  • Applying sterile saline and closing the eyelids
  • Placing a damp washcloth and chipped ice or ice pack over the eyes
  • Documentation in chart

We encourage caregivers to prepare the patient’s family for the phone call from IDN or ILEB. Our staff is specially trained to answer a family’s donation questions with sensitivity and care.

Suggested language: "Another member of the healthcare team will be contacting you regarding end-of-life decisions."

In order to move forward with donation, the next-of-kin will be asked to answer questions regarding the donor’s social history, including information on travel, infection, sexual history, and drug or alcohol abuse. This information is needed to make sure corneas can be safely transplanted. If the family refuses to provide this information, donation is generally NOT pursued.

Yes, shortly after tissue is transplanted, we send donor families a letter providing basic information on the outcomes of their loved one’s corneas. In addition, we provide a variety of memorial options to acknowledge the selflessness and generosity of their loved one’s gift. Learn more about ILEB’s Family Services Program.


ILEB Eye Donation Information Pamphlet
ILEB hospice caregiver quick reference guide