Seeing is believing

The Dr. Hudson Silva Eye Bank and Eye Donation Society, that started off in the personal freezer of the founder himself, now spreads the gift of sight and life not just across the country but also globally
By Thushara Kulatunga

In 1957, a young medical student, Hudson Silva, having witnessed an operation involving the replacement of a diseased cornea with one taken from a cancer patient, started thinking of the possibility of creating a system where people could donate their eyes, after death.

Writing an article in the Lankadeepa newspaper in 1958, he explained how this could work and that the donation of one’s eyes after death was a meritorious act.

Dr. Hudson Silva

By 1961 the Dr. Hudson Silva Eye Bank and Eye Donation Society was established, but on a small scale. The first eye bank was in the doctor’s residence itself with the donated corneas stored in his own freezer.

To this day, the Sri Lanka Eye Donation Society, in addition to restoring the sight of countless Sri Lankans, has also donated eyes to 57 countries and over a hundred cities around the world and has moved from being a humble project that began from one man’s freezer to an organization that has over 300 branches across the country and won recognition globally.

Eye donations apart, the society also helps 3,500 underprivileged patients every year who have developed cataract by conducting surgery free of charge.

The society also conducts social service projects where they educate the public including schoolchildren. Over 800,000 have pledged to donate their eyes after death and this number continues to rise.

In 2009, the Cabinet approved a memorandum by the Minister of Healthcare and Nutrition following a request by the Eye Donation Society to declare September 18 (Dr. Hudson Silva’s birthday) as National Eye Donation Day, to encourage the efforts and achievements of the society as well as to pay tribute to Dr. Hudson Silva.

In addition to the Eye Donation Society, Dr. Hudson also successfully set up the Human Tissue Bank in 1996 enabling donation of human tissues needed for patients who have suffered accidents and burn injuries. Until this time, tissues had to be imported from abroad at a great cost.

The Human Tissue Bank obtains tissues from bodies and prepares them according to international standards for purposes such as grafting, improving the quality of tissues and conducting research related to such activities.

The tissues are sterilized using radiation methods, stored under controlled temperature and issued to hospitals that need them. The Tissue Bank also provides a few tissue parts to hospitals overseas.

The words of the late Dr. Hudson Silva remain as compelling today as when he first made this appeal. “It is you and I who have this strength to accept the challenge of brightening the lives of the blind of the whole world.

You know that you will one day be cremated or buried with your still usable eye. Therefore my only request to you is to come forward to donate your eyes.”

What you need to know

Eye donation

The legal requirements for the donation of your eyes after death state that a form pertaining to the donation of the eyes must be signed by the donor prior to death.

Two witnesses should be present to state that the deceased had verbally indicated his or her willingness to donate his/her eyes. The guardians consent to donate the eyes of the deceased can be obtained under the provisions of Corneal Grafting Act No. 38 of 1955.

Ideally, the eyes of the deceased need to be removed within two hours of death. The maximum time limit for the removal of the eyes is four hours.

There is no age limit for the donation of eyes. As long as the cornea has not been damaged, the eyes can be donated. However, the eyes of someone who may have been suffering from or has died due to infections which could possibly have been spread by a virus or any related diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, Tuberculosis, cancer etc. are not suitable for donation.

Tissue donation

Individual body parts or the whole body can be donated to the Human Tissue Bank. These are stored and given free to hospitals or medical institutions for purposes of research and for replacing non-functioning body parts.

In the case of the donation of the whole body, once all parts necessary for the Tissue Bank are obtained, the bank will take necessary action for burial. When handing over limited parts of the body, the body could be taken back by the guardian for the funeral. Once a body is donated, the parts needed will be obtained within four hours and the body handed back to the guardian.

Tissues have to be donated within 12 hours of death. While there is no age limit for the donation of eyes, other body tissues can be obtained by the Tissue Bank only from those who are between 5 to 70 years of age.

For further information, on how you can help, contact the Dr. Hudson Silva Eye Donation Headquarters on 2692051, 2698041 or 2698043.

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