New Mexico Lions Eye Bank


The New Mexico Lions Eye Bank (NMLEB) was founded in 1962 to meet area surgeons’ needs for corneal tissue. Originally, it was based at the Lovelace Clinic (now Lovelace Medical Center). Later as the Eye Bank grew, it was relocated to Presbyterian Hospital. The New Mexico Lions Eye Bank affiliated with the non-profit eye and tissue banking network TBI (Tissue Banks International) in 1995, which enabled the eye bank to expand to provide services to not only the citizens of New Mexico but all over the country and overseas as well. Two years later, the NMLEB moved to its present facility. The New Mexico Lions Eye Bank has been a member ofthe Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) for nearly forty years. Through the generous contributions of the Lions, NMLEB has a state of the art laboratory in Albuquerque. In their lab, they have digital imaging systems that enable them to obtain high quality images of corneas allowing surgeons to select the cornea best suited for their patient.


The Eye Bank concentrates on the recovery of transplantable corneas and sclera tissue for surgery. It may also recover tissue for research, when appropriate. The cornea is the clear tissue covering the eye. About the size of a dime, this precious piece of tissue is thewindow to the world. Like the face of a watch, if the cornea is damaged, vision is impaired and blindness can result. Corneal damage can be a consequence of inherited conditions, disease or trauma. The sclera is the white part of the eye, which is used in a variety of ocular surgeries that restore or improve sight. Last year, more than 30,000 corneal transplant procedures were performed in the US. In a corneal transplant, the surgeon removes the damaged tissue and replaces it with healthy tissue donated to an eye bank at the time of the donor’s death. Under optimum conditions, this transplant has a higher than 90 per cent success rate.

Cornea Evaluation

Currently, NMLEB uses two types of specialized microscopes in the evaluation process. One, the specular microscope, allows them to obtain a detailed image of a single layer of cells on the inside of the cornea. The condition of this layer and the density of the iris is crucial to the success of the transplanted cornea. A digital image of this layer of cells is retained for the surgeon and can be used for educational purposes. The other device is a slit-lamp microscope which allows them to examine the different layers of the cornea so they can give the surgeon a picture of the cornea before it leaves our premises. They are currently participating the development of a more sophisticatedimaging device that will allow them to report some of the optical properties of the cornea to a surgeon. The New Mexico Lions Eye Bank continues its long standing cooperation with New Mexico Donor Services to promote eye, organ, and tissue donation around the state. NMLEB’s agencies provide donation education to healthcare professionals in hospitals. In addition, they work to educate the community regarding eye, organ and tissue donation. Grants from the PNM Foundation and the Albuquerque Community Foundation have allowed NMLEB to develop written materials for nursing education about eye donation. They also have printed materials to give to families after the loss of a loved one. Recently the Albuquerque Community Foundation granted them funds to purchase brochures in Spanish to distribute.

There are many ways you can help NMLEB to continue to serve the people of New Mexico. In this state, an indication on your driver’s license that you wish to be a donor is legal consent. However, it can be a comfort to your family to know of your decision beforehand. So it is encouraged that you have a conversation with your family now to inform them of your decision. They will still be contacted to obtain certain medical information required by Federal law. We also encourage you to make a monetary contribution to the Eye Bank to help us advance our sight-restoring programs.

Your donation to the New Mexico Lions Eye Bank (an IRS 501c3 nonprofit organization) is tax deductible to the extent the law allows. And please remember NMLEB in your will and bequests. The legacy of sight is one of the most precious legacies you can leave.

Cornea Diagnosing Technology

The New Mexico Lions Eye Bank is one of three in the country serving as a test site for a new technology designed to determine whether a donor cornea has undergone laser surgery. Donor corneas which have been treated with lasers are altered by it and can disintegrate during the transplant procedure, but until now it has been impossible to sort out the lasered corneas from those not treated. Now, Kestrel, Corp., an Albuquerque based science and technology company, has developed a device that can see evidence of laser surgery, abnormalities, and even small natural bumps that occur inside the cornea.

The New Mexico Lions Eye Bank is one of three eye banks selected by Kestrel to test its new diagnostic machine which uses a “wavefront sensing method.” This method senses the timing of light waves as they travel through the eye. Light waves traveling through the eye encounter defects which it can define as to shape and scope. Previous laser surgery can be diagnosed quickly and precisely. Until now, eye banks had to rely on family history interviews to reveal laser surgery on their relative’s eyes. According to Curt Vavra, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Lions Eye Bank, “History isn’t 100 percent reliable. We’ve had people who told us someone had laser surgery and we can’t find any evidence of it. And we’ve had people say their loved one didn’t have the surgery and we can see they did through dissection.

Although the break down of laser treated corneas is not yet a huge concern “as the popularity of laser surgery increases, the problem will become a lot more common in the future.” If the tests conducted at the New Mexico Lions Eye Bank and the two other banks prove successful, Curt Vavra says, “It will save eye banks, patients and surgeons time and energy.”

National Donor Month

The gift of sight through corneal transplantation is celebrated all across the US with the March observance of National Eye Donor Month. Locally, the New Mexico Lions Eye Bank takes this time to encourage the decision to be an eye donor. “Sharing your decision with your loved ones will ensure that your wish to donate will be followed when the time comes,” says Curt Vavra, the Transplant Bank’s Executive Director. Since 1983, National Eye Donor Month has acknowledged the generosity of eye donors and their families, the gratitude of transplant recipients, and the work of eye banks. This year, long time eye banking champion, Representative Jay Inslee (DWA) is proclaiming Eye Donor Month in Congress as a time dedicated to the promotionof eye donation and corneal transplantation.