What is a Corneal Transplant?

The cornea is a thin, dime-sized layer of transparent tissue that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber of your eye. When this tissue is deceased or damaged, it may need to be replaced with a healthy, transplanted cornea.

The cornea for a transplant comes from SightLife. Working with Medical Eve Center’s Dr. Matt Oliva and Dr. John Welling, along with surgeons in over 30 countries, SightLife and its global partners help restore vision to more than 23 men, women, and children each day. How? Through non-profit “eye banking,” the recovery and placement of eye tissue used in corneal transplants. When a family whose loved one has passed away chooses to give the precious gift of sight, SightLife recovers the corneal tissue. After they make sure the tissue is healthy and safe, SightLife provides it to Dr. Oliva or Dr. Welling for transplantation. After your procedure, you will receive more information from SightLife, such as the opportunity to share your recovery story or reach out to your donor family.

What types of corneal transplants are there?

Most transplants are “selective” transplants in which only the diseased part of the cornea is exchanged for a healthy donor cornea. This includes deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK), laser assisted keratoplasty (Intralase enabled keratoplasty) or selective endothelial transplantation (DSAEK and DMEK). Dr. Oliva and Dr. Welling are pleased to offer the latest techniques in selective layered corneal tranplantion, depending on your individual situation.

Partial Thickness Transplants

Corneal Transplant digital image

Endothelial Keratoplasty (EK)
The inner layer of defective and/or missing cells of the cornea is replaced by a healthy layer of cells from a donated cornea. This surgery is less invasive than a full thickness corneal transplant and usually heals in 6-12 weeks.

Digital image of a corneal transplant

Deep Anterior Lamellar Keratoplasty (DALK)
The outer and middle layers of the patient’s cornea are replaced by a donated cornea. This may be combined with a laser for more precise cutting of corneal tissue. Healing takes 1-2 years.

Full Thickness Transplants

Digital illustration of a corneal FEMO transplant

Penetrating Keratoplasty (PKP)
Complete replacement of the patient’s damaged cornea with a donated cornea. Healing takes 1-2 years.

Digital image of a corneal FEMO transplant

Femtosecond Laser Keratoplasty
Instead of a blade, a laser is used to precision-shape the donated cornea. Dr. Oliva or Dr. Welling also use a laser to prepare the transplant patient’s eye tissue to match the donated cornea. The transplanted cornea fits into place on the receiving patient’s eye like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fitting together. Compared to a traditional Penetrating Keratoplasty, the patient heals faster and experiences a quicker restoration of vision.