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L.I. eye bank promotes cornea donations in boro

That’s why the Lions Eye Bank...

By Adam Kramer

People with healthy eyes tend to take their eyesight for granted: When they wake up all it takes is a quick rub and a couple of blinks and the world comes into focus. But for people with cornea problems life is not so easy.

That’s why the Lions Eye Bank for Long Island is trying to raise awareness among Queens residents about corneal donations and transplants.

“Your cornea is like the crystal of a watch,” said Marilyn McAndrews-Bedard, community affairs representative at New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens and an active volunteer for the Lions Eye Bank. “Your vision is blurred. It is like having wax paper covering your eyes — you see light, but you can’t see anything.”

She said the eye bank, which covers Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk counties, is not getting enough attention in the borough and they are trying to reach out to the community.

“The only substitute for one human cornea is another,” said Samuel Packer, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and executive chairman of the Lions Eye Bank for Long Island. “Thanks to these generous donations, thousands of blind or visually impaired people are able to have their vision restored each year.”

Dr. Steve Knapik, director of the eye bank, said the bank procures, processes and distributes eyes and corneal tissue for transplant, research and education. He said they pick up the eyes 24 hours seven days a week from donors in the area who have died. The bank then processes and test the tissues and when a surgeon needs the tissue the bank provides it.

McAndrews-Bedard said the eye bank is going to schools to educate children, holding presentations at civic and political groups and even filmed a commercial with state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale).

The International Association of Lions Clubs is a worldwide community-based organization located in 180 countries with more than 1.4 million members and 40,000 clubs.

The Lions Eye Bank for Long Island was established in 1986 and five years ago the Queens Lions — under the leadership of Joseph Farber, president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce — became active participants.

Long Island Jewish Hospital and the Schneider Children’s Hospital in Glen Oaks, Elmhurst Hospital Center and North Shore University Hospital in Forest Hills are the Queens hospitals which actively participate in the eye bank program.

McAndrews-Bedard, a Maspeth resident and volunteer organ transporter, said she became aware of organ transplants from her husband who advocated organ donation.

“I lost my husband to a massive heart attack and he wanted his organs donated,” she said. “He educated me about the process. I do it because you are giving life to someone else.”

She said her husband’s tissue went to seven burn victims, while his corneas are being used by a man in San Diego and another in France, and his bones helped 200 people needing bone grafts.

“Don’t worry what the person looks like after the organ transplant. You can still have an open coffin,” she tells people to try and allay their fears. “Stay calm, you are helping someone in need.”

To date, more then 5,800 people have received corneal transplants locally, nationally and internationally through the Lions Eye Bank for Long Island. Each year in the United States roughly 48,000 people receive corneal transplants.

For information on the eye bank call McAndrews-Bedard at 670-1194.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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