Sourasky purchases corneas in bulk from US.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The line for people who need cornea transplants at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center has dropped to only two months instead of a year or more in other hospitals.
This has been accomplished by the hospital establishing an agreement that purchases dozens of corneas from cornea banks in the US after they are tested for suitability and absence of disease in the deceased donors.
Management said the purchase comes at the hospital’s expense, and that it only breaks even on the procedure after being compensated by the health fund for the transplant operations. A “new” cornea for the eyes can restore the sight of vision-impaired and even blind people of various ages, not only the elderly, said Dr. David Varssano, head of the cornea clinic; Prof. Anat Loewenstein, head of the ophthalmology department; and hospital director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu. Varssano said the hospital spent NIS 350,000 of its own funds just during the second half of the year to purchase the corneas. About four or five years ago, the Health Ministry subsidized such purchases for corneas to transplant in hospitals around the country, but it was a one-time program that was terminated, causing the queues to lengthen again.
The cost to the Tel Aviv hospital for each cornea is $1,500 to $2,000 apiece.
Although other hospitals purchase corneas from cadavers from time to time, they are few in number, said Varssano, who said that 45 were bought for patients. In addition, dozens of Israeli families gave permission for corneas to be removed from the eyes of their deceased loved ones. As a result, 103 cornea transplants were carried out on patients – some of them with very complex conditions – in 2016 at Sourasky. Only 32 patients were waiting at the end of the year. “We are close to the situation where corneas are available almost immediately. The procedure today is carried out almost daily in the hospital,” he added.
Patients who receive corneas must use steroid drops to prevent rejection by their bodies of the transplanted corneas.
Meanwhile, Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petah Tikva announced that it carried out 29 kidney transplants, 14 liver transplants and three heart transplants in children and babies last year. Schneider performs the vast majority of organ transplants in children.