Corneal transplants are giving local patients a new window to the world.
This procedure is now being performed locally at the Parschauer Eye Center and Firelands Regional Medical Center.
"All these cases typically had to go to Cleveland, Toledo or Columbus," said Eric Dudenhoefer, eye doctor and surgeon at Parschauer Eye Center.
While the procedure is relatively new to the area, the corneal transplant is an established and relatively safe procedure, Dudenhoefer said. Each year more than 40,000 corneal transplants are performed nationwide.
Sanduskians Andrea Gonzales, 38, and Christopher Hodgkinson, 32, both had corneal transplants done by Dudenhoefer, and said they would do it again.
Hodgkinson's was the first corneal transplant performed in Sandusky almost exactly a year ago.
The replacement corneas are age-matched between the donor and recipient. Unlike some organs -- such as kidneys or livers -- there is a relatively low risk of rejection and rarely a waiting list.
The cornea is the transparent layer that forms the front of the eye. The corneal transplant is an outpatient procedure that typically takes between 45 and 90 minutes. The surgeon uses a circular blade to cut the correct size out of the donated cornea.
The surgeon then cuts the patient's old cornea with a similar round blade and replaces it with the new one "in cookie-cutter fashion," Dudenhoefer explained.
The new cornea is stitched into place. Though the stitches can be seen through an ocular microscope, it's nearly impossible to tell with the naked eye if someone has had a corneal transplant.
Gonzales said she can't even feel the stitches.
There are four main reasons people undergo a corneal transplant -- optical, to improve vision; reconstructive, to replace injured tissue; therapeutic, to treat tissue not responding to antibiotic or antiviral medication; and cosmetic, to replace scarred tissue.
While the procedure itself costs thousands, it usually costs insured patients several hundred dollars.
"The majority of the cost is usually covered by insurance or Medicare," Dudenhoefer said.
He said most people who have corneal transplants have extremely poor vision and are often legally blind before the procedure.
While a full recovery takes more than year, patients typically see immediate benefits.
Gonzales, who had her cornea replaced in December, said she already notices a remarkable difference in her vision.
"I can even watch TV without my contact in," she said. Before the transplant, she said, she couldn't walk through her house without a contact in her bad eye.