Every year, over 1,000 Canadians are added to organ wait lists in hopes of receiving a life-saving transplant. Although the wait lists in Canada are still long, the Canadian Institute for Health Information recognized an increase in deceased organ donation by 42% over the last 10 years.
In Canada, 90% of citizens support organ and tissue donation, but less than 20% have made official plans to donate. This April is Be A Donor Month: a month dedicated to raising awareness about organ donation in Canada in an effort to increase the percentage of registered donors.
Organs that can be donated include the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, small intestines, bone, skin, heart valves, and eyes. Researchers are still discovering the possibility of a full eye transplant—in the meantime, donated eyes can still change someone’s life.
How eye donation works
A registered donor’s eyes will be assessed for donation upon arrival at the eye bank. Eyes that are eligible for transplant will provide the cornea to a patient in need.
Many types of blindness may not be improved by a corneal transplant, but many other conditions can be. For example, a corneal transplant could help to improve the condition of someone with a diseased cornea.
One thing that is particularly interesting about eye donation is that many people with blindness can, in fact, be eye donors. If you have glaucoma, macular degeneration, or cataracts, you can still donate your eyes and benefit someone else’s life.
What happens to ineligible eyes
According to the Eye Bank of British Columbia, eyes that are ineligible for transplant can still be used for research and education. Scientists can analyze diseased eye tissue to understand the underlying causes of these diseases and work towards developing preventative measures and treatments. Additionally, they can also use this tissue to help develop treatments to improve vision and prevent blindness.
Because healthy and eligible eyes are used by experienced surgeons to perform transplants, medical students can use the diseased or ineligible eye tissue to practice corneal graft preparation.
Whether eyes are eligible for transplant or not, they are still essential to the development of life-changing treatments and training of skilled surgeons.
How to register as an organ donor
In Canada, registration to donate organs is done by province. Some provinces have a few different options; however, in most provinces, it is required that you inform your family of your wishes to become an organ donor so they can assist in making the arrangements. In addition to sharing your desires with your family, follow the other requirements for your province to ensure your wishes will be arranged:
British Columbia: https://register.transplant.bc.ca
Northwest Territories: Sign the back of your health card.
Saskatchewan: Call the Saskatchewan Transplant Program at 1-306-655-5054 to obtain a sticker to put on your health card.
New Brunswick: Check the appropriate box and sign your Medicare renewal form—your wishes will be clearly displayed on the card. If you want to indicate your intent to donate before renewing your card, visit www.gnb.ca/0051/0217/organ/index-e.asp
Nova Scotia: Call MSI at 902-496-7008 in HRM or toll-free at 1-800-563-8880. You can also download the complete form here.
Prince Edward Island: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/service/register-organ-andor-tissue-donor
Newfoundland & Labrador: Complete your Medical Care Plan (MCP) application or renewal form at www.health.gov.nl.ca/health/forms/index.html#3
Yukon: Mail the registration card to Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan (H-2), Box 2703, Whitehorse, YT Y1A 2C6 or drop it off at the office on the 4th Floor of the Financial Plaza building at 204 Lambert St., Whitehorse, Yukon. You will receive a sticker to put on your health care card indicating your donor status.