Legacy of Life Hawaii to expand program to include cornea recovery

HONOLULU – Legacy of Life Hawaii, the only federally designated organ procurement organization in Hawaii responsible for the recovery of organs and tissue for transplant, announced today that it will expand its services to begin recovering eye tissue from donors in June 2016.

 “Legacy of Life Hawaii is dedicated to saving and enhancing lives through organ and tissue recovery, which includes cornea recovery services,” said Legacy of Life Hawaii CEO and President Stephen A. Kula, PhD. “Expanding our clinical services to include cornea recovery services will ensure local accountability and enable us to better serve the community and the families of those who have given the gift of life.”  Legacy of Life Hawaii will be one of many organ donor centers nationwide to combine donor organ, tissue and eye services as part of its clinical program.

Legacy of Life Hawaii had worked with the Hawaii Lions Eye Bank (HLEB) for recovery of corneas for nearly 30 years prior to September 2013, when HLEB announced it would contract with a California-based eye bank that processes and distributes human ocular tissue nationwide. “Since HLEB announced its merger with an out-of-state eye bank, we have had growing concerns over the lack of local management and oversight and its impact on delivery of services,” said Kula.  By including cornea recovery services in its program, Legacy of Life Hawaii brings the management of cornea recovery back to Hawaii, providing a more efficient, accountable program for donor families, hospitals and recipients alike.

Questions and answers regarding the recovery of eye tissue in Hawai’i

Question: Is Legacy of Life Hawai’i qualified to recover eye (ocular) tissue for transplant?

Answer: Legacy of Life Hawai’i has the operational expertise and resources needed to meet the demand for corneas transplanted in the community. LLH Vice President of Clinical Operations, Gerry Estrella, has 15 years of experience in successfully managing full-service eye banks and served as the medical director designee at the University of California San Francisco Tissue Bank, the Donor Network of Arizona, the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation (MTF), and the Donor Network West (formerly CTDN).

Legacy of Life Hawai’i is also partnering with SightLife, a Seattle-based eye bank and the largest in the world. SightLife was founded as the Northwest Lions Eye Bank in 1969 by the Lions of the Pacific Northwest as a center for excellence for cornea donation and soon grew to become a world-class eye bank.

As the only organ procurement organization (OPO) in Hawai’i, it’s incumbent on LLH to maintain the highest level of quality assurance so it can continue to provide life-saving organs and life-restoring eye and tissue to those in need in our community. In addition to the U.S. FDA, U.S. HRSA CMS and UNOS, on-site audits will be conducted annually by SightLife to ensure compliance with federal regulations and key performance indicators.  

Question: How does “keeping it local” benefit the community?

Answer: Expanding our program to include eye-tissue services will ensure local accountability and enable us to better serve the community, all stakeholders and the donor families whose loved ones have given the gift of life and sight. For cornea recipients, Legacy of Life Hawai’i’s partnership with SightLife will provide local ophthalmologists access to the highest quality corneas for their patients.

Transplants are not only healing for the recipient but also help the donors’ families to cope with their grief knowing their loved one has given the gift of sight to someone in need. Honoring Hawai’i’s organ and tissue donors is key to LLH’s mission. LLH Family Services department provides grief counseling and ongoing support to donor families and countless opportunities to recognize those who have given the gift of life in our community. By keeping the management of cornea recovery locally based, the community is better served, both on the donor family side as well as the recipient side.

Question: Why is Legacy of Life Hawai‘i (LLH) no longer working with the Hawai’i Lions Eye Bank (HLEB)?

Answer: In September 2013, HLEB announced a management agreement with a California-based eye bank that processes and distributes human ocular tissue nationwide.  Prior to that time, HLEB worked as a locally owned and operated entity in partnership with LLH to provide full organ, tissue and cornea recovery services to Hawai‘i’s acute care hospitals. The decision by LLH to begin recovering corneas itself has been driven by concerns over HLEB's level of service to the community and responsiveness to donor families, and not by financial considerations. By including cornea recovery services in its program, LLH brings the management of cornea procurement back to Hawai’i providing a more efficient, accountable program for donor families and recipients alike.

Question: How will this change impact our relationship with the Hawaii Lions?

Answer:  LLH will no longer contract with HLEB to recover corneas, but hopes to continue working side-by-side with the Hawaii Lions in their outreach efforts to support sight care and encourage organ, eye and tissue donation to restore sight to the blind and visually impaired in the community. 

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