One in 10 donated corneas thrown out in B.C. due to surgery bottleneck
Nearly 400 people in British Columbia are waiting for corneal transplants
One in ten healthy, donated corneas was thrown out in British Columbia last year because sight-restoring procedures are considered a lower priority in the province's hospitals resulting in delayed or cancelled surgeries, the CBC has learned.
A CBC investigation has revealed that 141 corneas went to waste in 2012 because of surgery cancellations, processing errors, transportation issues, or because the corneas expired before they were transplanted into a new host.
Corneas must be used within seven to 10 days of harvesting.
Dr. Martin McCarthy, medical director of the Eye Bank of B.C. said while he understands life-saving organ transplants are a priority, life-altering corneal transplants are important, too.
Corneas "have been donated by very generous families in a difficult time for them. So yes, we should be fully utilizing those," McCarthy told CBC News.
"It's very frustrating actually. We could use those 140 corneas that were discarded if we had additional operating time."
Currently, there are nearly 400 people in British Columbia waiting for corneal transplants.
Since 2005, the average wait time for corneal transplants in B.C. has dropped from nine months to five months.
Wait times map
The wait times are now some of the shortest in the country but McCarthy says there wouldn't be a wait at all, if they could eliminate the waste of donated corneas.
B.C.'s Ministry of Health referred CBC's inquiries to local health authorities.
A spokeswoman from Vancouver Coastal Health said surgeries must be prioritized to "ensure there are no waits for people requiring urgent emergency surgeries, such as for internal bleeding, skull fractures, a ruptured appendix, or blocked coronary arteries."
A spokesman for the Fraser Health authority said surgeons base their decisions on mandated wait times, wait lists, the urgency of the procedure and patient needs.
But for 61-year-old David Poon, who has been waiting nine months for a corneal transplant, restoring his eyesight is of the utmost importance.
Poon's left eye was damaged in a sports accident and the eyesight in his right eye is also failing. He says his near-total blindness is putting his life on hold.
"It's hard on your life, it changes your life, or I should say you don't have a life until your turn comes," said Poon.
But his waiting will soon be over. He is scheduled for a corneal transplant on Wednesday.
"To me, gaining my eyesight back is the highest priority I can think of," Poon said.
with files from CBC's Eric Rankin