What is a Corneal Graft?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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A corneal graft is a surgical procedure in which tissue from a donor cornea is implanted into a host who has a damaged cornea. In about 93% of patients, the donor cornea successfully takes, resolving vision problems caused by the damaged cornea. Such grafts are performed on people with corneas which have been compromised by disease trauma, and other problems. A graft may also be recommended for severe cosmetic problems.

The donor tissue comes from a cadaver. Corneas for transplant can be kept in storage for several months, providing an ample supply of tissue which can be used in cornea graft procedures. During the procedure, the surgeon cuts out the damaged material in the middle of the cornea with a trephine, a device which cuts out circular sections of tissue, and then places a “button” of donor corneal material into the space and sews it in place.

After a corneal graft, the patient's vision may take up to a year to stabilize and the eye must be carefully protected in the first few weeks to prevent trauma. The stitches usually remain in place for at least three months. After the healing process is over, the section of replaced cornea tends to be slightly thicker, and the patient may require specialized vision correction. Some patients are able to wear contacts after a corneal graft, while others may be restricted to glasses.


There is an alternative to the conventional corneal graft, also known as a penetrating keratoplasty. Some patients may be candidates for a lamellar corneal graft, also called Descemet's Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSEK), in which a thin slice of cornea is used for the graft. This newer procedure is constantly being refined by surgeons, and may be offered when the circumstances of a patient's case suggest that it could be successful.

Before a corneal graft takes place, patient and physician should discuss the surgery. It is important to go over the patient's medical history, and to ask questions about projected recovery time, vision quality after surgery, medications which will need to be taken during recovery, and so forth. Patients who know what to expect are more likely to have a successful outcome because they can prepare more fully to care for their eyes during the weeks and months following surgery. If a patient is not prepared or does not understand the information, mistakes may be made during recovery which compromise the graft.



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