Corneal Transplant 2017-07-10T19:21:56+00:00

Corneal Transplants

To treat diseases and other issues associated with the cornea, we may use the surgical procedures listed on this page.

Individuals in the North Central Florida area in need a cornea transplant in order to restore their vision now have another option for treatment thanks to the ophthalmologists at Ocala Eye. DSAEK (pronounced dee-sak) is a transplantation procedure that is associated with quicker visual recovery, a smaller incision, and much less astigmatism than the standard corneal transplant technique known as penetrating keratoplasty (PKP). DSAEK was first introduced in Central Florida by Ocala Eye.

Ocala Eye DSAEK

DSAEK on Post-op Day 1 – notice the air bubble used to hold the transplant graft in place instead of sutures (which are present only in the wound itself)

Ocala Eye DSAEK vs PKP

DSAEK vs PKP – A DSAEK sutureless transplant (left) and a PKP or penetrating keratoplasty (right) in the same patient. While the right eye was seeing well within two weeks, the left eye took 6-8 months.


After DSAEK, the vision clears faster than the full thickness corneal transplant operation and you can return to your normal activities within two weeks with the exception of swimming.

Standard Cornea Transplant Method (PKP)

PKP has been the standard of care for many years and most physicians are very familiar with the postoperative care. It provides excellent vision with the appropriate glasses or contact lenses in most cases. It does require frequent visits to the doctor to measure the cornea, prescribe glasses, and take care of the stitches.

The cornea is a transparent dome on the front of the eye. Corneal edema (swelling) produces decreased vision due to loss of transparency of this normally clear tissue. The swelling arises from a loss of endothelium, a thin layer of cells found on the back surface of the cornea. These cells are not capable of dividing or repairing themselves. The only treatment for visually significant corneal swelling is to replace these cells.

Until recently, the only way to replace endothelial cells was to perform a full thickness corneal transplant procedure called penetrating keratoplasty (PKP), requiring complete removal of the patient’s cornea and replacement with a donor cornea. Unfortunately the wound can take years to heal so the new cornea is sutured in place with very fine stitches left in place indefinitely to maintain strength and stability. After the operation, it usually takes several months to years to obtain your best vision. It is very difficult to predict the final curvature of the cornea; so after surgery, glasses or contact lenses are required in the majority of cases. If the stitches break, there may be a feeling like having sand in the eye, and removal of the stitches may change the curvature of the cornea requiring new glasses. In addition, the broken stitches may produce a corneal infection requiring the use of antibiotics to treat the infection and can rarely lead to graft failure.

The DSAEK Advantage

Recently a new procedure has been developed to replace the endothelial cells that does not require a full thickness replacement of the cornea. In the DSAEK procedure (Descemets’ Stripping Automated Endothelial Keratoplasty), a thin piece of donor corneal tissue containing the endothelial cells and posterior stroma is inserted through a small incision on the side of the eye. This tissue adheres to the back surface of the original cornea and clears the corneal swelling.

The advantages of DSAEK are that extensive stitching of the cornea is not required and the eye heals more quickly. Although glasses will still be required after the operation, they may be much thinner as the power of the eye after surgery is much more predictable.

In addition, the surgery is safer as the new cornea is inserted through a small incision rather than a complete opening of the front part of the eye reducing the chance of a devastating hemorrhage during the surgery or infection afterwards. Because a smaller incision is used, the eye is left stronger so that if it is inadvertently struck there is less likelihood of a serious injury.

The main disadvantage of the DSAEK procedure is that the new endothelium is manipulated more directly than in a full thickness corneal transplantation, potentially producing more damage and possibly resulting in graft failure. There is a 10% chance that the new tissue will not adhere properly requiring repositioning, or in less than 1% of cases, re-operation. The long-term survival of this tissue has not been fully studied. The cornea is also left much thicker than the original due to the addition of tissue to the posterior aspect of your current cornea. This may make it more difficult to follow glaucoma.

In order to make the new tissue stick onto the back of the old cornea, an air bubble is used to completely fill the front part of the eye for an hour after surgery. After that time the air is partially released and left overnight. During the first twenty-four hours, it is important to stay on your back as much as possible to keep the air bubble positioned correctly, anchoring the new tissue in place. When you are seen the next day, the position of the new tissue will be checked. It may be necessary at that appointment or the next appointment one week later to reposition the new tissue by placing a new air bubble. Once the tissue sticks, it remains in place, so the most critical post-operative period is the first six weeks.

After the DSAEK Procedure

After DSAEK, the vision clears faster than the full thickness corneal transplant operation and you can return to your normal activities within two weeks with the exception of swimming. Like full thickness corneal transplantation, eye drops are required for at least a year and more often for the rest of your life to prevent graft rejection, where the body recognizes the tissue as being foreign and reacts against it. Fortunately graft rejections are very unusual (less than 10% of cases) and if they do occur, can be treated successfully in the majority of cases with frequent eye drops and occasionally oral medications. The cornea is a privileged site where powerful immunosuppressive medications such as those associated with heart or kidney transplants are rarely necessary to prevent graft failure.

Ocala Eye is pleased to bring this new procedure to central Florida and we look forward to working with this new option for improving our patents’ vision.

Consult an Ophthalmologist

Ocala Eye’s fellowship-trained ophthalmologists and medical staff are dedicated to helping your vision last a lifetime, which is why we offer comprehensive eye care for adults of all ages. From annual eye exams to advanced procedures like LASIK and cataract surgery, we can help you see your best at any phase of your life.

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