This blog was written by Jonathan Czaplicki, Senior Eye Bank Technician 

It’s kind of funny to think about, but when I first applied for this job I wasn’t really sure what it even entailed. I saw “Eye and Tissue Donation Specialist” and since it aligned with my two biggest interests: science and, more importantly, helping others, I figured that this might be a career path for me. After just a couple of days working here I realized I made the right decision, and almost five years into my time with ConnectLife it’s more of passion than a job.

When people ask me what I do here it’s hard to sum it up. In general, the Eye and Tissue Department is responsible for recovering ocular tissue, musculoskeletal tissue, skin, hearts, blood vessels, nerves, and birth tissue (placenta and umbilical cords). We send this donated tissue to our processors who then evaluate it and find recipients for the tissue. We also work with a lot of researchers both around the world, and right here in our backyard including the University at Buffalo. But as for my team and I, we specifically spend most of our work day focused on corneas.

The cornea is essentially the clear front part of your eye. When the cornea is damaged or not working properly a person will have an incredibly difficult time focusing on much of anything and might need a transplant. 

When a cornea is recovered, the Eye Lab staff at ConnectLife evaluates it extensively before we transplant it. We microscopically look at the cornea, evaluating everything from whether or not there’s an eyelash on it, all the way down to its cells to make sure its functioning properly.

Next we review the donor’s medical information, pouring ourselves into the donor’s medical and social history to ensure that the cornea is healthy for transplant. When a cornea is released, we work with local surgeons to see if they have a need for the tissue, and if they don’t have a need, we then reach out to regionally to see if they have a need.

We then see if eye banks across the United States require any corneas. If no home can be found nationally, we send these released corneas around the world to countries in need, such as Syria, Chile, and Puerto Rico.

I know it sounds cheesy, but the Eye and Tissue Department is a big family. We work incredibly well together and I would be astonished if you could find a more passionate group of individuals. Our recovery team is on call 24/7 and 365 days a year, and since our work is incredibly time sensitive, their ability to adapt, work under pressure, and work long hours is proof of how dedicated my teammates are. We are all different here but the one thing we have in common is the core desire to give back to our community.

I really enjoy the work I do here at ConnectLife. I won’t lie, sometimes our donors’ stories can be incredibly sad. As you review their medical and social history, you get to know a little about the donors, and you begin to understand just how much they will be missed by their loved ones.

But in these moments I remind myself of just how many people eye and tissue donors can impact. The gift of donation is amazing, and I am always in awe of our donor families, who in such trying and difficult times, make the choice to donate and help others. We get letters from recipients and their families all the time, letting us know how much their life has changed thanks to the donation of others. These letters are the highlight of our workdays, and it’s an honor to be just a small part in the process of donation.

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(Pictured left to right: Laura Herald, Jonathan Czaplicki, Brandi Pope, Colleen Scrivo - all members of ConnectLife's Eye & Tissue Department)