East TN Lions Eye Bank opens in Karns

Susan EspirituKarns/Hardin Valley

The Lions Club Eye Bank is in its 60th year and is celebrating the opening of East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank at 7515 Beaver Ridge Road, Knoxville. An open house is set for 3-5 p.m. Sunday, May 19, at the new facility.

Commissioner Terry Hill with Valerie Stewart

Valerie Stewart, the executive director of the Lions Club Eye Bank since 1998, shared some history and process for this extraordinary service we have in our area.

Dr. Harvey Coker started the Lions Eye Bank in 1964, also founding the Alabama Eye Bank. He had an office in the back of a Karns animal clinic.

The first donor to the eye bank was George Dempster, former Knoxville mayor, founder of Dempster Brothers Construction Co. and inventor of the Dempster Dumpster, who donated his cornea.

The first recipient from the eye bank was a sailor traveling through Knoxville.

So how does an eye bank work? Valerie explains when someone dies and wishes to donate eye tissue, the eye bank has a procurement team that harvests the donation.  The team will travel to morgues and funeral homes but mostly to hospitals for removal of whole eyes or corneas.

The donations are then taken to a state-of-the-art lab at the facility, where the donation is tested, and the needed tissues are cut and exported to the surgeons who are specialists.

The bank exports first to Tennessee and local areas, then across the United States, and on to international locations but only if the family has agreed to international services.

Valerie says the bank believes its work is a form of missionary work to help those who can’t see. Last year, over 544 people received the gift of sight.

The bank is continually raising funds for operational expenses for the two-million-dollar facility so it can continue to procure the donations to provide the gift of sight to those in need.

Valerie urges everyone to tell their loved ones about donating their eyes so they can mark their driver’s license.

East Tennessee Eye Bank is open 24 hours a day because it covers all of east Tennessee including 24 hospitals, going out any time to procure donations.

If you have questions or want information, contact East Tennessee Lions Club Eye Bank email.

All of us have a story and I want to tell yours! Send them to susan@knoxtntoday.com.


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