October, 2018 | Story of Hope- Teresa Rambuad - Portland, OR
Thanks to four cornea donors and their families, Teresa sees and lives life in bright, vivid color.
Teresa Rambaud was only 14 when she was diagnosed with Keratoconus – a progressive eye disease that affects the cornea. In spite of this, at the age of 17, Teresa was able to visit Silverton, Oregon as an exchange student from Mexico.
By the time Teresa was 20, she had become totally blind. Life was dark and difficult at times, and she would often fall and hurt herself. Teresa was incredibly grateful for the care and support of the teachers and classmates who got her through school – assisting with studying and even giving her tests orally. But Teresa’s family made the greatest sacrifices, assisting her each day and routinely loading their large family into the car for 12-hour round trips to El Paso, Texas, to see eye specialists. Teresa got through it by focusing on the good moments of her life. She says, “Even when I was blind, I have always been able to see my blessings.”
At the ages of 22 and 24, Teresa received her first two cornea transplants from donors in El Paso, Texas. For the first time in almost four years, her world turned from dark and gray to bright, vivid color.
Over the years, Teresa’s vision began to decrease again. Though her doctors assured her she wasn’t experiencing rejection, they did recommend another cornea transplant in each eye. As a long-time Happy Valley resident, her transplants were performed in Portland, with corneas recovered by Lions VisionGift. In October 2016, she received a right cornea, and in December 2017, she received a left cornea.
In April 2018, Teresa was able to meet the family of one of the donors who helped her to be able to see her beautiful daughter’s dimpled face again – Robert Esparza of Gresham. Teresa had been praying and waiting for that opportunity and felt that meeting Robert’s family was another amazing gift to her. To be able to thank Robert's dad, Simon (pictured below) for supporting his decision to help others was a wonderful feeling, and her hope is that she can give them a sense of peace and comfort as they have given her the gift of sight.
As a four-time cornea recipient, as well as a Bilingual Donor Contact Representative for Be the Match bone marrow donor program, Teresa urges others, “Share your blessings! Become an organ, bone marrow, eye, and tissue donor. Also, support your loved one’s decision to help many patients in need: deciding to give someone life or sight after you are gone – it’s amazing – the most beautiful, and selfless action of compassion!”
August, 2018 | Lions VisionGift's focus on research and innovation once again pays off with the issuing of a technology patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
PORTLAND, OR, August 7, 2018 – Lions VisionGift (LVG), one of the nation’s leading eye banks, is excited to announce that that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted it a patent for claims for its invention of Patient Ready DMEK™.
The patent is titled, Corneal Tissue Sample Assemblies and Related Methods of Use (US 10,041,865 B2), and covers LVG’s innovative assembly for the handling, transporting, viewing, evaluating, and/or shipping of corneal tissue. The patent is the culmination of years of work to create an innovative way to provide endothelial tissue in a manner that can meet the strict evaluation and quality standards that are a cornerstone to LVG’s success.
“It is truly humbling to work with so many bright and dedicated people who worked hard to bring this from concept to reality. This achievement represents a tremendous organizational investment. The field of eye banking is evolving – innovation now requires a new sense of forethought and intentionality to ensure that good ideas can be translated into advances in patient care.” - Said Chris Stoeger, CEO of Lions VisionGift.
Dr. Khoa Tran, LVG’s Research and Development Scientist, is the primary inventor of the assembly, which he developed after spending time working with surgeons, eye bank processors, and outside vendors to modify the shape and size of key elements of the delivery system. After much testing to validate the process and assembly for evaluation consistency, shipping, and primarily safety, the first tissues were transplanted in early 2017. To date, over 1500 corneas have been transplanted using the Patient Ready DMEK™ system. LVG currently offers limited licensing of the technology to other eye banks in the U.S.
“The name, Patient Ready DMEK™, was chosen for our system as a reminder that patients come first. The patented process behind this service lets surgeons know that the standardized tissue preparation and delivery methods used to provide transplant grafts have been thoroughly validated.” Said Khoa Tran, PhD, LVG’s R&D Scientist, “This patent will help LVG extend the benefits of our vigorous laboratory and clinical testing to partner eye banks who share our passion to honor this precious tissue gift by delivering high-quality transplant grafts”.
Lions VisionGift is dedicated to advancing transplantation, research and education to honor donors and their gifts of sight. Since its inception in 1975, over 40,000 people have received the gift of sight from tissue procured and screened by Lions VisionGift. Additionally, thousands of gifts have been utilized for ocular research and surgical training. Lions VisionGift has locations in both Portland, Oregon and Boston, Massachusetts.
December, 2017 | In Memoriam - Barbara Crow - Portland, OR
On November 7, 2017 the world lost a true pioneer in the world of eye banking. Barbara started her career at OHSU’s Casey Eye Institute where she ran the Oregon Eye Bank from 1987 to 1998 at which time she took over Lions Eye Bank of Oregon (now Lions VisionGift). She co-Directed the two organizations until merging the programs in 2000. That in and of itself would be accomplishment enough for most of us, but not for Barbara. Barbara spent the next 16 years leading the eye bank through a continuous growth trajectory that has allowed us to contribute to sight saving surgeries, research and education at a level unfathomable in 1998.
It was her commitment to sharing our knowledge that provoked the strongest voices of sorrow from around the eye banking community. Barbara led the EBAA as Chairman in 2000-2002 and was recognized in 2004 with the Heise Award, the highest honor bestowed upon an eye banker for her tremendous contributions to the field. Barbara went on to lead LVG for more than 10 years after winning that award and has mentored many staff to follow her example of giving back to the community. It is through this mentorship and organizational strength that Barbara’s legacy will live on in to the future and is perhaps her greatest gift to eye banking.
While eye banking has lost an icon, Lions VisionGift and our friends have lost our long-time former CEO who was so much more than a leader. She was a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration to be our best. Every recipient of a cornea from LVG, every family offered the option of donation, every “yes” that is honored through the gift of sight, is a tribute to her memory.
July, 2017 | A big announcement and milestone from our Boston team! - LVG East- Boston, MA
It is with great pleasure that we announce our first tissues processed at Lions VisionGift East (Boston, MA). Allison Andersen prepped 2 DMEK tissues for surgery with Stephen Wehrer assisting. This is a significant accomplishment and reflects hours of hard work by both Stephen and Allison in getting to this point. This feat could also not have been possible without the many hours of work by our IT, RAD, and Distribution departments. Congratulations are due all around!
March, 2017 | Eye tissue donors like Portland Trail Blazer Jerome Kersey have saved the eyesight of more than 30,000 people - Ariane Le Chevallier at OHSU - Portland, OR
When we think about organ donation, we often think about the heart, kidney or liver, but eye tissue from deceased organ donors also can be gifted to patients in need of sight-saving surgeries.
Now surgeons at OHSU Casey Eye Institute are using a new technique called Halo graft, a patch made of donated corneal tissue, to perform tube shunt surgeries that prevent vision loss in glaucoma patients. Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.
Shandiz Tehrani, M.D., Ph.D., an ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist at Casey Eye Institute, has performed more than 100 surgeries using the Halo graft, which was developed by researchers at Lions VisionGift, Oregon’s eye bank. While topical medication and lasers are used in mild to moderate cases of glaucoma, patients with severe glaucoma often need surgery to prevent blindness.
Tehrani says Halo is now the mainstay for covering tube shunt implants at Casey Eye Institute and is improving the long-term success of the surgery.“In the past, donated corneal tissue use was limited by prior medical history and surgeries,” says Tehrani, an assistant professor of ophthalmology in the OHSU School of Medicine and member of the Medical Advising Committee of VisionGift. “With the advent of Halo, previously unused corneal tissue from one eye can now be used to create multiple Halo grafts and benefit up to four different glaucoma patients.”
“Halo grafts allow surgeons like Dr. Tehrani to maximize donated eye tissues and help save the eyesight of many more patients,” says Corrina Patzer, chief strategy officer at VisionGift. “For families who have lost loved ones that became eye tissue donors, learning that their gifts were used to save the eyesight of another person is often a significant comfort in what is such a dark moment in their lives.”
Portland's CBS affiliate, KOIN-TV, recently talked with Tehrani about beloved Portland Trailblazer Jerome Kersey, whose eye tissue was donated when he passed away in 2015. It was later revealed that his eye tissue was able to be preserved and then gifted to several glaucoma patients, including some at Casey Eye Institute, using the Halo graft.
Surgeons at Casey Eye Institute use donated eye tissue to treat glaucoma, corneal transplants and emergency ocular trauma repair, among others.
September, 2016 | CEO of Lions VisionGift Announces Retirement Date - Portland, OR
Barbara Crow, Chief Executive Officer of Lions VisionGift (LVG), has announced her retirement; her final day will be December 31, 2016. Ms. Crow has served as Executive Director/CEO of LVG, formerly Lions Eye Bank of Oregon, since 1998. She came to the organization from Oregon Health & Sciences University where she served as Executive Director of the Oregon Eye Bank at OHSU from 1987, and is credited, along with Dr. Joseph Robertson and Lion George DeHart, with merging the two eye banks in 2000.
Ms. Crow’s tenure saw the eye bank through its growth years as a program of the Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation, to its present day status as a world renown eye bank dedicated to its mission of honoring its donors and their gifts of sight in order to eradicate preventable blindness through transplantation, vital eye research, education and the provision of medical products used to treat specific conditions in the eye. As she puts it, “I came to a program that had 7 employees and a 24 member Board of dedicated Lions, many of whom stayed with the eye bank to provide guidance and support through the years. FDA regulations soon pushed the eye bank into a new world of increasing tasks to complete the same job. Today LVG has a staff of 60 and provides over 1500 corneas a year for transplant in Oregon and across the world. We’ve added serum eye drops to ease dry eye conditions, a patented “halo” group of sterile tissues used in glaucoma surgeries, and vital eye research projects in conjunction with local cornea surgeons and with researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.”
According to Ms. Crow, “This has been a ‘Dream’ job for me; I’ve been assisted by a superlative staff and a group of steady Lions who believed in the eye bank. Together we have built an organization that is the envy of eye banks all across the world. Our Medical Advisory Board is filled with surgeons renowned in the world of ophthalmology; our Board and community has a staunch group of Lions and non-Lions that have stood by us, acted as tissue couriers for us and cheered for every milestone we crossed. We have ventured into cell biology research in a partnership with Johns Hopkins University, and soon we will open Lions VisionGift East in Boston, MA. This latest venture will facilitate the delivery of tissue to our many surgeons in the eastern part of the US. I feel this is the right time for me to step aside and watch as LVG soars to new heights! I will forever be grateful to many Lions, some of whom are no longer with us but stay with me only in spirit. No one could have had a better career than to come to work each day and know that we make a difference in the lives of those who have suffered with unnecessary blindness. My time with LVG will be extended as a consultant during 2017, to ensure a smooth transition in leadership of this fine organization.”
September, 2016 | First Lions VisionGift Prepared DMEK Transplanted in New York - New York, NY
Lions VisionGift is really proud of the relationships we develop with talented surgeons from across the nation – and around the world – when they visit us to observe techniques and protocols of the newest corneal surgeries; others have spent time in fellowships with some of our partners in care, like the Devers Eye Clinic, and gone on to their own practices elsewhere. In both cases many have maintained their affinity for Lions VisionGift prepared tissue. This trend took another step forward when our newest Medical Director, Dr. Chris Sáles, who now practices in NY, performed two DMEK surgeries in early September 2016 utilizing Lions VisionGift prepared DMEK tissue.Dr. Sáles reported that the procedures went perfectly and he was pleased with the blue vital dye staining LVG utilizes in our pre-cuts because it allows the surgeon to see the tissue better during the surgery, but it also highlights any cell damage that can occur during tissue recovery and processing – noting that both tissues had “nothing to see but pristine endothelial cells.
DMEK procedures represent an increasing proportion of all corneal transplants, and the utilization of an eye bank prepared DMEK graft, on the other side of the country, is an important step in the continued growth of the therapy and of Lions VisionGift’ s reach. In addition to New York, Lions VisionGift, is also a licensed tissue bank in Oregon, California, Florida, and Massachusetts, as well as in the nation of Canada.
March, 2016 | Processing Technician, Phil Dye, Reaches 1,000 DMEK Preparations - Portland, OR
As we all know, there are two versions of endothelial keratoplasty therapy; DSAEK which has been performed for more than 10 years and the newer DMEK, which is only a couple of years old. Of note, each of these therapies was developed, in large part, through extensive exploration and refinement by Lions VisionGift laboratory staff – with DMEK largely being pioneered in our lab by our technician Phil Dye. That Phil just this month passed the 1,000 DMEK graft preparation threshold is a truly remarkable achievement. Coupled with the many hundreds of peels Phil performed during validation and clinical trials for the procedure, Phil’s epic contribution to DMEK science means he has very likely performed more of these peels than any other person on the planet.
As noted by Joshua Galloway, Processing Manager for Lions VisionGift, "Phil Dye has recently processed his 1000th DMEK graft for transplant and we are aware of only 1 other person the world, Dr. Mark Gorovoy, who can make the same claim. This is a remarkable achievement in itself, but to prepare that many with as few failures as Phil has had is even more astounding. In his over 1000 attempts Phil has been 98.5% successful in preparing transplantable grafts. To hit such a mark with that level of success on such an incredibly difficult procedure is a testament to the skills and dedication to our mission that Phil possesses."
Not to get hung up on language – more specifically, on the validity of hyperbolic statements about the “best” or “greatest” – but Lions VisionGift just may have some of the most impressive eye banking professionals in the game. It’s true that every company will claim to have the greatest employees, but how often does that seem like a marketing point? How often do companies take the time to explain why their employees are the best? To that end, we hope the information you've just read helps qualify Phil for that elite category of industry leader.
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2/26/17 - 3/1/17 | American-European Congress of Ophthalmic Surgery - Aspen, Colorado
3/2/17 - 3/5/17 | American Glaucoma Society - San Diego, California