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More than 25 local Lions Club members are part of a larger transportation network that deliver eye tissue to the eye bank almost daily

By J.O. PARKER

eyes
Adam Stockman with the Iowa Lions Eye Bank in Iowa City holds eye tissue (cornea) from an Iowa donor. Following a series of tests, the life-enhancing cornea will be used to provide sight to a recipient somewhere in Iowa, or around the world. Local Lions Club members are a part of a larger network of transportation volunteers who have been delivering the eye tissue from Grinnell to Iowa City since late June. "If the Lions didn't do it, I don't know who would," said Jerome Sheets of Montezuma. "It works in with the Lions motto of 'we serve.'"

Rolling east on Interstate 80 last week, Jerome Sheets of Montezuma knew that he was carrying life-enhancing cargo with him.

“An hour delay can push everything back one day,” said Adam Stockman, director of laboratory operations at the Iowa Lions Eye Bank in Iowa City. Sheets, a member of the Montezuma Lions Club, is among a network of more than 25 local and about 80 state-wide Lions volunteers who have been transporting eye tissue (corneas) from Ames and Des Moines to Grinnell and on to the eye bank almost daily since June.

“If the Lions didn’t do it, I don’t know who would,” said Sheets as he pulled his pickup into the eye bank parking lot on Mormon Trek Boulevard in Iowa City. “It works in with the Lions motto of “we serve.’”

The Lions began transporting eye tissue June 29, after the Iowa State Patrol (ISP) announced that budget restraints and personnel cutbacks had forced them to discontinue the service except in Northwest Iowa. The ISP had been providing the transport service statewide since the founding of the Iowa Lions Eye Bank in 1952.

Steve Halstead, a tissue transport scheduler and Lions Club member from Bondurant, said the volunteers provide the vehicle, gas and their time, many doing it several times each month.

“They are doing this out of their own pockets,” Halstead said. Halstead said there are currently 15 Lions transporters from Grinnell; nine from Montezuma; three from Kellogg; and one from Sully.

“I am really pleased that all the area Lions Clubs can come together and make sure these corneas are delivered,” said Donald Schild, a Grinnell lawyer, Lions member and transport volunteer.

“I believe in it and I believe we have made an overall contribution to the success of the program,” added Paul Keferl, president of the Montezuma Lions Club.

How it all works

The Iowa Lions Eye Bank works closely with the Iowa Donor Network to secure eye tissue. Once a donor dies and family consent is received, one of nine Iowa Lions Eye Bank technicians from across the state recovers the tissue and packages it in a sealed Styrofoam cooler for transportation. The eye tissue is then sent to holding facilities in Ames (Mary Greeley Medical Center) or Des Moines (Pappajohn Center) for trans-port to Iowa City.

“Those facilities call the Iowa Lions Eye Bank and report where the tissue is located (Ames or Des Moines) and how many containers there are,” said Halstead.

The Iowa Lions Eye Bank then calls one of the four transport coordinators on duty  (Charlotte Miller, Story City; Ray Halterman, Dana; Ron Donald, Van Horne, and Dick Minette, Cedar Rapids), shortly after 7:30 a.m. to let them know where the tissue is located and how much there is. The coordinator then calls each of the scheduled volunteer transporters and the relay begins.

Volunteer drivers take the tissue from Ames or Des Moines to Grinnell. In Grinnell it is handed off to another volunteer driver who takes it to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank in Iowa City. All of this has to happen by 12 p.m. “We have never failed to get the tissue to the Iowa Lions Eye Bank before 12 p.m.,” said Halstead.

Halstead is in charge of working with the individual clubs and coordinating the volunteer transporters schedule. There is a primary and backup driver for each day of the week. Once a schedule is completed, each transport coordinator is given a copy, and one is also posted on the Iowa Lions Eye Bank Web site. Halstead follows up with weekly schedules sent to the eye bank and transport coordinators.

The next step

Once the tissue arrives at the Iowa Lions Eye Bank, the suitability of the tissue for transplant is checked.

“That is the point when we will review medical records and send out blood to Florida for (communicable disease) testing and evaluate the tissue itself,” said Stockman. “There are a lot of procedures that need to happen quickly and need to be done right.”

Once the tissue is approved for transplant, a suitable recipient is found and surgery is scheduled. If a suitable recipient is not found in Iowa, the Iowa Lions Eye Bank works with a larger national group called Vision Share to find a recipient in another part of the country or world.

“If the tissue is suitable it will be used somewhere in the world,” said Stockman. “We average less than 55 hours from the time of death to the time the tissue is released for transplant surgery. The Lions transporters are a huge part of that.”

The transplant consists of either a full thickness cornea transplant or a partial thickness transplant to treat specific disorders. “Now transplant procedures have become more common in recent years that have led to better patient outcomes and shorter healing times,” Stockman said.

Life-enhancing organ

Eye tissue is considered a life-enhancing organ. Stockman recalled a story of a recipient who lost his sight more than 40 years ago at age 17 in a farming accident. Now in his 60s, the man can see again thanks to donated eye tissue.

“He saw his face, his wife and children for the first time,” said Stockman of the miracle surgery.

In another case, Halstead said the wife of one of the Des Moines volunteer transporters received a tissue trans-plant and improved sight. All totaled, Halstead said 118 people received transplanted tissue in the first two months of the service. Today, that number would be closer to 300 recipients.

“Our transporters experience a tremendous sense of accomplishment when they transport, because they know that somewhere, someone is going to be able to see again and they had a hand in making it happen,” Halstead said.

“Words cannot express how that makes one feel.”

For more information on the Iowa Lions Eye Bank visit them on the Internet at www.iowalionseyebank.org.

UPDATED December 4, 2009 10:23 AM

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