Banking on people’s generosity
COMOX — Jane Slingsby says she brags about St. Joseph’s General Hospital all across B.C.
Slingsby, clinical educator with the Eye Bank of British Columbia in Vancouver, is impressed by the number of people who participate in the eye donation program at St. Joseph’s.
The program, which is run through the Eye Bank, uses eye donations from anybody between the ages of two and 75.
Slingsby says St. Joseph’s is somewhat unique in how it runs the program, and the local hospital is one of the top in B.C. in this area.
“They stand out as the best team for the size of the community,” said Slingsby. “Proportionately, this would be the best. It’s amazing, and it’s amazing that it’s changed hands. I came here in 2006, and the running of the program has changed hands three times. It ebbs and flows, but they’ve been able to keep the interest, and it’s amazing.”
As of about 10 or 12 years ago, a mandatory reporting law came into effect in B.C., which means all hospitals must report all deaths of people aged 75 and younger, explained Slingsby.
When Slingsby started working at the Eye Bank six years ago, she began monitoring that reporting and comparing deaths and donations every six months to see which hospitals and which units within each hospital were reporting.
“I brag about Comox all over the province,” she said. “They were able to carry this through without that mandatory reporting law. When you consider the size of the hospital and the few who die in that age range and the challenges of weather and transportation, this hospital would have the highest number of donors per number of deaths 75 and younger.”
Seventeen people donated their eyes at St. Joseph’s between January to June, according to Slingsby.
“(That) is huge, the highest we’ve been since 2008,” she said. “It’s huge, the contribution of this community.”
Rosie Chrest, a licensed practical nurse, has been working in the eye donation program for 15 years.
Chrest is one of five enucleators at St. Joseph’s — along with Denise Bagnet, Leah Zboyorsky, Christine Koppa and Joanne Trithardt — who retrieve the eyes.
They work with chaplains Brian Ducedre and Steve Hill, who is the hospital’s director of pastoral care, mission and medical ethics.
“We have a fantastic team of nurses who do the harvesting,” said Hill. “They come out at all hours of the night because of the opportunity to do some good. It’s probably near and dear to their hearts.”
Chrest knows firsthand the importance of sight, as her cousin went blind when they were about 11 years old.
“It was just the whole difference to see someone who could see then couldn’t see,” said Chrest. “Sight is so huge. I think it’s a great gift we all take advantage of and don’t realize how important it is. For this, I think it’s great people get that second chance to see.”
Donated eyes can be used for two types of transplants: corneal and scleral.
“There are only a few diseases a person has that prevent them from being a donor,” said Chrest. “You can have poor eyesight and still donate.”
The cornea is the clear portion of the eye, and it corneal transplants are used when there are physical or chemical injuries to the cornea, when there is cell damage as a result of cataract surgery and when a person has diseases such as Fuch’s Dystrophy and Keratoconus.
The sclera is the white portion of the eye, and it donated sclera can be used to support artificial eyes, to reconstruct the eyelid and as part of glaucoma surgery.
Each eye donor can potentially help eight to 10 people, and that number is even higher when you consider people whose tissue can’t be used for transplants but can be used for education and research, according to Slingsby.
Chrest and the other four enucleators will retrieve the eyes, and it’s Hill and Ducedre who will have the conversations with patients and their families about donating their eyes.
“It’s proved to be a very positive multi-disciplinary collaboration between pastoral care, nurses and the Eye Bank,” said Hill. “It takes all of us working together to do a great job. It’s an opportunity for people to give and make a difference. It’s a stellar program from top to bottom.”
Hill and Chrest praise St. Joseph’s administration and the hospital’s board of directors for supporting the eye donation program through the years.
Chrest says eye donation can bring families some comfort at a difficult time.