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Corneal Transplant

Why Choose the University of Colorado Hospital Eye Center for Corneal Transplant?

The Department of Ophthalmology at UCH was ranked by Ophthalmology Times as one of the 10 best patient care programs in the country. At the UCH Eye Center, our doctors are all fellowship trained in a wide range of specialty areas and are able to treat the most complicated cases.

The vision research our opthamologists perform contributes to improvements in care and advancement of knowledge in the field. As professors and leaders in the field, they teach the next generation of caregivers.

A corneal transplant replaces the cornea, the clear tissue on the front of the eye that helps to focus light on the retina. UCH ophthalmologists are experts in this procedure.

What is a Corneal Transplant?

A corneal transplant is a surgical procedure that replaces a damaged or diseased cornea.

The cornea is the clear tissue on the front of the eye that helps focus light on the retina. It is the part of the eye on which a contact lens rests.

When the cornea is damaged, it may need to be replaced.

Corneal transplantation is recommended for persons who have:

  • Thinning and excess curvature of the cornea that causes vision problems that are not correctable with glasses or contact lenses (medical name: keratoconus)
  • Scarring of the cornea from severe infections or injuries
  • Cloudiness of the cornea that causes vision loss (medical name: Fuchs' dystrophy or other corneal dystrophies)

In a corneal transplant, the doctor removes the small circle-shaped cornea in the eye and replaces it with donor corneal tissue. This donor tissue comes from a person who has recently passed away and has previously agreed to donate their corneas. A transplanted donor cornea is rarely rejected – because it does not have its own blood supply, the white blood cells and antibodies that target foreign tissue do not reach it.

Success rates for corneal transplantation depend on the reason for the transplant. Most patients do very well. However, other eye conditions, such as glaucoma, may affect results.

Corneal Surgery – Expertise Equals Choice

Thanks to the extent of their expertise, our doctors are able to offer you a variety of surgical options.

Descemet's Stripping Automated Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSAEK) – For cases in which only the innermost layer of the cornea is damaged or dysfunctional, our doctors perform DSAEK – one of the newest surgical techniques in corneal transplantation. In this surgery, only the innermost layer of the cornea is transplanted. The donor cornea is held in place with an air bubble. This eliminates the need for sutures to hold the donor cornea in place. As a result, a patient's visual recovery often is faster and more successful with DSAEK than with other techniques.

Partial transplant (Lamellar transplant or lamellar keratoplasty) – You may be a candidate for a partial transplant if only the front (anterior) or back (posterior) part of the cornea is affected. This may happen due to LASIK surgery complications or other conditions. Among the advantages to this type of transplant are significantly lower rejection rates. This procedure requires a very high level of skill and specialized equipment, and is offered only at top facilities.

Kerato-prosthesis – Occasionally the body rejects a corneal transplant. For patients who have experienced multiple rejections, your doctor may opt to use an artificial cornea. Our surgeons have transplant experience with the Alphacor artificial cornea and the Boston Keratoprosthesis (K-Pro).

Patient Education

Corneal transplantation is done on an outpatient basis at the hospital. The surgery usually takes one to two hours. After spending a short time in the recovery area, you will leave the hospital with an eye patch and shield and eye drops.

Recovery is different for each patient. Sometimes, vision returns after a few months and for others it may take up to a year to return to full vision.

You should follow up with your doctor as directed to ensure there is no rejection or infection of the transplanted tissue. Signs of possible complications include but are not limited to the following symptoms:

  • Decreased vision
  • Flashes of light or floaters in the eye
  • Light sensitivity
  • Redness of the eye that gets worse
  • Pain

Getting a Second Opinion about Corneal Transplants

As with any surgery, it is important to feel comfortable with your doctor and the staff. The Eye Center at University of Colorado Hospital is happy to offer a second opinion and to work with you if you choose to come to our hospital for your surgery.

Please contact us at (720) 848-2020 to schedule your first appointment.

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