News Releases

February 4, 2002

Emory Eye Center recieves grant to continue Corneal transplants in children

(ATLANTA) A $118,000 grant from the Carlos and Marguerite Mason Trust will enable the Emory Eye Center to support the care of children who need cornea transplants. This “bridge funding” the Pediatric Corneal Transplant Program at Emory begins January 2002 and will last one year. The grant comes from Wachovia Bank, which administers funding from the trust created by Carlos and Marguerite Mason.

Cornea transplants are the most common form of transplant in medicine. Because of the new techniques and drugs that have been developed over the last four decades, this surgery has a very high success rate.

Unfortunately, cornea transplants are among the most difficult cases to manage in children. The follow-up care is very difficult and is as important in children as the surgery itself. Rejection and complications are common. Private insurance (or Medicaid) rarely pays for the post-operative care, which is the most complicated and expensive part of a child’s care.

Emory Eye Center’s pediatric cornea transplant program, the only one in Georgia, will undoubtedly be aided by the funding, which will enable the program to provide needed help for countless children in the future. Virtually every pediatric cornea transplant in Georgia takes place at Emory.

Because of the difficulty with reimbursement for cornea transplants combined with the popularity of refractive surgery—where the patient pays for services up front—many physicians do not wish to specialize in diseases and treatment of the cornea in the pediatric-age group. Thus, the costs for maintaining such a program can be prohibitive.

Emory Eye Center has had an acute need for funding to bridge the gap while the pursuit for more permanent funding goes on to enable the much-needed program to continue.

When children need this specialized surgery and follow-up care, Emory Eye Center corneal surgeon Diane Song performs the surgery. “If a child is born with a corneal defect, it is best to perform this surgery during the first three months of life,” she says. “Then the young patient has a chance from early on to be able to see well.” The longer a child waits to have serious vision problems corrected, the less their chance to regain sight in that eye. Many say that by 9 years of age it is almost too late.The eye has lost the ability to connect to the brain, and therefore see.

After the cornea has healed, pediatric ophthalmologist Arlene Drack performs the follow-up vision rehabilitation, in which these children learn to “see” with their newly repaired eye. Working with the Contact Lens Clinic, she makes sure they receive the needed contact lenses or glasses and then formulates their particular therapy.

“We are so pleased that Emory Eye Center’s Pediatric Corneal Transplant Program has been recognized and deemed worthy by the Mason Trust. On behalf of numerous children and their families, I am supremely grateful for this grant,” says Dr. Drack. As project leader she follows these special cases closely over time, often without compensation.

“The Mason Trust will enable the Emory Eye Center to do what it is positioned to do,” says Thomas M. Aaberg, Sr., director of the Emory Eye Center. “Because of our three-fold mission of teaching, research and patient care, we are uniquely able to take care of these difficult cases in children. I am heartened that others also appreciate our mission and will enable Drs. Song and Drack to continue their valuable work.”

Media Contact: Joy H. Bell
jbell@emory.edu
404-778-3711

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