Local News

N.C. Eye Bank Could Help Troops In Event Of Chemical Attack

Posted April 3, 2003

— Troops on the front lines use gas masks and suits to help protect them in case of a chemical attack, but there are no guarantees.

Blindness is a key concern with chemical burns and the

North Carolina Eye Bank

is on standby to help the troops in case of an emergency.

In the event of a chemical attack in the Middle East, corneas could help restore sight to blinded soldiers.

"We were alerted sort of on a heads-up basis," said Kurt Weber, the director of the North Carolina Eye Bank.

Nationwide, 80 eye banks are on standby. Weber said if they get the call, the corneas will be sent out immediately for transplant.

"Up to 150 corneas may be called for in the event that chemical weapons are deployed," he said.

Weber said that shipment of corneas would likely wipe out the entire supply.

On an average day, there are 90 to 100 corneas available for transplant nationwide. Ten to 15 of those corneas are in North Carolina.

That means patients on the home front would have to wait for transplants.

"We would alert our surgeons that the need for tissue was emergent to treat soldiers in Iraq, and that we would ask them to reschedule their elective transplants," he said.

Weber estimated it would take at least a month to restock North Carolina's supply.

With the threat of chemical warfare higher than ever, he said more eye donors are needed

"People's thoughts and

decisions about donation

can have a dramatic effect on how we're able to treat people who might be injured in Iraq," said Weber.

He said eye banks were on alert once before after Sept. 11, but they never got the call.

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