Cornea Transplant

At Vistar, two types of cornea transplants restore vision, reduce pain and improve the appearance of a damaged or diseased cornea. Both outpatient procedures are performed locally by Vistar doctors, using corneal tissue from a donor.

Are You a Cornea Transplant Candidate?

  • Does your vision impede your job performance or your ability to carry out daily activities?
  • Can your vision be corrected through special contact lens fittings or other less invasive measures?
  • Are you able to take time off from work or school to recover?
  • Is your condition likely to get worse or be more difficult to treat in the future?

All of these questions, in conjunction with thorough discussions and screenings with your Vistar doctor, will be considered before you make the decision to have a corneal transplant.

Cornea Conditions Treated

  • Thinning
  • Scarring, caused by infection or injury
  • Clouding
  • Swelling
  • Corneal ulcers, including those caused by infection
  • Complications caused by previous eye surgery

Full Thickness Transplant (Penetrating Keratoplasty)

This traditional cornea transplant replaces a small button-sized disc of corneal tissue with a donor cornea.

  • Donor tissue replaces all of the cornea's five layers.
  • Fine sutures are temporarily required to hold the tissue in place.
  • Stitches are removed 12 – 24 months after surgery.
  • About 30% of all patients needing a transplant require this procedure.
  • Procedure takes less than one hour.
  • Full recovery can take up to a year or longer.

The DSEK technique (Partial Thickness Transplant)

Many Vistar patients benefit from this less-invasive transplant technique to replace only the inner layer of the cornea.

  • Procedure replaces only the innermost membrane of your cornea's five layers.
  • The transplanted tissue is held in place with an air bubble inside the eye that dissolves over 2 to 3 days.
  • Nearly 70% of all patients needing a transplant can benefit from DSEK.
  • Clearer vision returns more rapidly.
  • No sutures are required to hold the tissue in place.
  • Less risk of astigmatism.
  • Procedure takes less than one hour.
  • Recovery is generally 1-2 months as opposed to 1-2 years.

Your Cornea Transplant Procedure

Once you and your doctor have decided that a corneal transplant is the best option for you, surgery can be scheduled.

  • Donor corneas are procured and prepared by an eye bank.
  • Donor corneas are released for transplant after the tissue is checked for clarity and meticulously screened for presence of diseases.
  • Outpatient surgery that requires only local anesthesia, supplemented with medication.

Once your cornea transplant is completed, you can expect to:

  • Use several medications including eye drops, including long-term use of steroid drops.
  • Wear a protective eye shield the first day after surgery and then while sleeping for several weeks.
  • Protect your eye from injury.
  • Return for frequent follow-up exams in the first year, usually weekly and then, every few months.


Initially, your vision will be blurry as the transplant may be swollen and slightly thicker than the rest of your cornea. As your vision improves, you will gradually be able to return to your normal daily activities.

  • For the first several weeks, heavy exercise and lifting are prohibited.
  • Expect to return to work 5 to 7 days after surgery.
  • For Full Thickness Transplants, adjustments can be made to the sutures surrounding the new cornea to help reduce astigmatism resulting from normal healing.

Your vision will continue to improve in the first 1 to 2 years following your surgery. You will still need vision correction (glasses or contact lenses) for nearsightedness and astigmatism, because the curve of the corneal transplant cannot exactly match the curve of your existing cornea.

  • In a Full Thickness Transplant, vision may fluctuate throughout the following year.
  • In a DSEK Transplant (Endothelial Keratoplasty) full rehabilitation is only 3 to 4 months.
  • For Full Thickness Transplants, patients will often require a special rigid or hard contact lens to see their best.
  • For DSEK, glasses are typically all this is needed.


Your Vistar doctor will explain all of the benefits and risk of this simple procedure before surgery is scheduled. As with any surgery, there is a small risk of serious complications to consider with your doctor, including:

  • Eye infection
  • Increased risk of clouding of the eye's lens (cataracts)
  • Pressure increase within the eyeball (glaucoma)
  • Swelling of the cornea
  • Complications with stitches
  • Rejection of the donor cornea
    • Rejection signs may occur as early as one month or as late as several years.
    • Signs include: redness, extreme light sensitivity, decreased vision and pain.
    • Prescription medication can reverse the rejection process.
    • Corneal transplants can be repeated, generally with good results.