Corneal Transplant Surgery 101

Eye surgeons in Calgary can treat and resolve many problems with your cornea to improve your eyesight and prevent deterioration of vision. Two common examples of procedures used to correct cornea issues are LASIK and PRK. Unfortunately, though, there are situations when your own cornea can not be repaired or restored to health.  In that situation, your eye surgeon may recommend corneal transplantation in Calgary. Your new and healthy cornea will restore your perfect eyesight.

If you’ve been experiencing eyesight issues and are considering cornea transplant surgery, you’re going to receive a lot of important information you need to consider carefully. This is a guide to some of that information to help you understand what is involved.

Cornea transplant surgery options

During a cornea transplant, your eye surgeon will remove your diseased or damaged cornea and, in its place, provide you with a donated cornea that has been carefully examined to ensure it is healthy. There are several different types of cornea surgery. Which procedure an eye specialist near you will recommend depends on a complete assessment of your eye, and what layer(s) of your own cornea need to be removed and replaced.

Full-thickness cornea transplants involve the removal of the entire cornea. The procedure is also called penetrating keratoplasty (PK), has a slightly higher risk of tissue rejection, and has the longest recovery period of all the cornea transplant options. You may not experience completely restored vision for a year or more following PK.

Partial-thickness cornea transplants are also called deel anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK). During a DALK procedure, the front and middle layers of the cornea are removed, but the endothelial layer at the back of your eye is left untouched. DALK treats a bulging cornea and has less risk of rejection than PK, and a recovery time just half as long in many cases.

Endothelial keratoplasty treats vision that is impaired as the result of a swollen cornea, often caused by damage to the innermost layer of your cornea — called the endothelium. Endothelial keratoplasty replaces that innermost layer but does not affect the other layers. If your eye surgeon recommends endothelial keratoplasty, they’ll also explain the various types of that procedure (DSEK/DSAEK and DMEK).

What to expect during corneal transplantation near you

Prior to surgery, you will have had a series of appointments with an eye specialist near you to determine the underlying cause of your vision problems and to confirm you are a good candidate for a corneal transplant, and which type will achieve your goals. You may also be directed to a general medical appointment to confirm you are a good candidate for surgery generally. Once that investigatory and preparatory work is done — usually over a period of weeks or months — the procedure itself will be an outpatient one. You will go to and be released from the clinic the same day. Here a very general outline of what to expect. (Specific steps and actions at each step will vary depending on which procedure is appropriate.)

  1. To ensure you comfort, you’ll receive eye drops and perhaps a sedative to help you relax
  2. Your surgeon will administer local (in which case you’ll be awake) or general anesthesia (in which case you’ll be asleep) depending on the treatment plan developed in advance
  3. The surgeon will place a device to hold your eye open throughout the procedure
  4. The precise actions taken in this next step will vary depending on what procedure is being performed but, generally speaking, the damaged cornea tissue will be removed and replaced with donated healthy tissue which will then be stitched into place
  5. Some treatment plans include other eye procedures once the corneal transplant has been accomplished, such as cataract removal but this will be planned in advance
  6. Once the surgery is complete, your eye surgeon in Calgary will place a shield over your eye to protect it as it heals
  7. Depending on the type of anesthesia you received, you’ll be monitored for a while at the clinic before being sent home
  8. Before being sent home — on the same day — the surgeon will provide you with detailed aftercare instructions and let you know when you will see them next to review your progress.

Corneal transplantation in Calgary sounds like a very intimidating and complicated procedure, but it is one regularly performed by well-trained and experienced specialists who solve people’s vision problems every day. Use this information to guide your conversation with your specialist to make sure all your questions are answered about what to expect before, during and after a corneal transplantation near you.