The first successful cornea transplant operation on two patients by a local donor was applauded by members of the medical community, friends and family of the donors and recipients of the cornea at a press conference in Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.
The two patients, names withheld, had a successful cornea transplant in August 2010 following the death of Lion Kola Shodipo, a 47 year old man who was killed on August 18, 2010. Prior to his death, he had pledged his eyes, which were removed some hours after his death, and the corneas used to restore sight to two individuals who had cornea blindness in one eye each.
MAKING THE BLIND SEE
Cornea blindness, according to Dr. Mosunmade Faderin, the Medical Director of Eye Bank for Restoring Sight Nigeria, is a reversible type of because it is just the front part of the eye that is damaged. “When that part is damaged, the person cannot see,” she said. “But with a successful surgery, which involves the replacement of the damaged cornea with a good one gotten from a dead person, sight can be restored. ” She added that for the cornea to be useful for a transplant, it must be removed within 12 hours after death with the consent of either the deceased, given before death, or the family after death .
Chief (Dr.) Olaseinde Akinsete, Chairman, Board of Trustees, Eye Bank for Restoring Sight Nigerian, recalled that although corneal transplant is lawful in Nigeria under Decree No.23, titled Cornea Grafting Decree 1973, not many corneal grafting operations have been carried out in the country. “Under the Decree, any person can, either by writing or orally in the presence of two or more witnesses authorize the excision of his or her eyes after death. The law stipulated that the person lawfully in custody of the body after death may unless he has reason to believe that the request was subsequently withdrawn, authorize removal of the eyes. Notwithstanding, the promulgation of the above mentioned decree, not many corneal grafting operations were carried out in Nigeria.” He further gave an insight to the number of people with cornea blindness in Nigeria. “Nigeria has about 1,170,000 blind people, based on a blindness rate of 0.78percent,” he said. “Cornea blindness is about 7.9percent that is 92,430 people with cornea blindness. It is the latter that will benefit from corneal grafting.”
GETTING IN THE HISTORY BOOKS
Late Mr Shodipo is the first Nigerian to donate his eyes for cornea transplant. Prior to this, all cornea transplants in Nigeria has been done with corneas gotten from other countries, mostly from India and USA. “Since the bank came into existence in 2004, not a single cornea has been harvested locally until very recently,” said Dr. Faderin. “The biggest challenge we’ve had is that the public first of all do not believe they should donate any part of their body after death and also that it is not possible to restore sight to a ‘blind’ person. In order to convince the public that someone who is cornea blind, and this group accounts for about 33% of those with reversible or curable blindness worldwide, that the Board of the Eye Bank decided to source for corneas from abroad.”
She added that Mr Shodipo made his intention of donating his eyes in 2008 because of his love for people and applauded his humanitarian work. “Today, we are here gathered to celebrate the first locally harvested corneas from a Nigerian donor who had pledged/donated his eyes prior to his passing on,” she said. “Our hero today was a member of the International Association of Lions Club, who at the Lions Convention in Ibadan in 2008, after he saw and heard the experiences of two cornea graft recipients who were presented; told me afterwards that he was going to be a donor.”
Dr. Femi Olugbile, the Chief Medical Director of LASUTH described the transplant as a landmark achievement and commended the donor family for ensuring that they obey Mr Shodipo’s wish. He also called for the creation of proper legislation that would make it possible for useful body parts to be harvested from unclaimed dead bodies and bodies of destitutes which can then be used to help sustain the lives of those who are still living. “The challenge of harvesting corneas and other body tissues for use on live patients in our country is a major one,” he said. “Unfortunately, these bodies cannot be touched for cornea transplant or other organ transplant and that is a major waste. There has to be a way in which that can be tidied up.An enabling law needs to be put in place as soon as possible”