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Life-Changing Cornea Transplant Surgery at Clarion Hospital

Friday, September 22, 2017 @ 01:09 AM

Posted by Clarion Hospital - Sponsored Content

Dr. Parag Parekh & Paula Mertel-2July is usually filled with summer fun and activities, for Paula Mertel it was a chance to finally have the life-changing corneal transplant to restore her vision.

Paula suffered from a blinding condition, Fuchs’ Dystrophy, a disease that causes the outermost clear layer (cornea) on the front of your eye to swell, which can lead to glare, cloudy vision and eye discomfort, and eventually blindness. Fuchs’ dystrophy disease usually affects both eyes and can cause vision to gradually worsen over years. When the disorder has advanced, vision is lost and the only way to restore vision is with cornea transplant surgery. Paula has had trouble with worsening Fuchs’Dystropy over the past several years.

She said, “It ruined my ability to knit years ago, and I was concerned that it would get to the point where I could not drive safely anymore. My ability to drive is my independence, so it was very upsetting to think about.”

This is Paula’s second surgery, her first surgery was in January 2016 when she had the corneal transplant on the right eye.

“It wasn’t as scary this time, because I knew what to expect,” said Paula. “The first surgery was done in Pittsburgh and I really wanted Dr. Parekh to perform the second surgery. I was excited that he was able to do the surgery in Clarion, as it is more convenient that traveling into Pittsburgh. Having to find rides back and forth is a problem when you have to travel that far.”

Seeing that Dr. Parekh was in Clarion and being able to have the surgery performed close to home was a comfort to Paula.

Parag Parekh, M.D., Founder of ClearView Eye Consultants, specializes in Cataract, Cornea, Glaucoma and LASIK Surgery. He is the only surgeon in the area skilled in performing this type of advanced corneal transplantation surgery.

Dr. Parekh completed his residency training at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore, MD, where he was the first resident to perform this type of advanced corneal transplantation surgery. He moved to Central PA with his family 6 years ago (his wife is a native of Ebensburg) and started his own practice, ClearView Eye Consultants in 2016.

A highly skilled surgeon, Dr. Parekh and ClearView have quickly become a top choice for patients with eye care needs in central Pennsylvania. He has expanded to four locations–State College, Tyrone, Altoona and Clarion–allowing patients to get expert eye care close to home.

A cornea transplant is a surgery that involves replacing the diseased or scarred cornea with a cornea recovered from a person who has passed away. The eye bank facilitates this important process.

The Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) provides the donor cornea for the transplant. A not-for-profit organ procurement organization serving Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and parts of New York, has been an Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) member since 1997, recovering donated corneas, which are transplanted to restore sight to those who are blind or who have suffered eye trauma of some sort.

Since CORE’s founding in 1997, CORE has helped more than 15,000 men, women and children receive corneal transplants to restore vision and relieve pain from injury and disease to the eye. In 2016, CORE helped 779 patients who were suffering from cornea blindness.

According to CORE, cornea transplants are the most common type of human transplant surgery and have the highest success rate as well. Anyone can be a cornea donor. The great thing about corneal tissue is that everyone is a universal donor. Your blood type does not have to match. Corneas have been transplanted into babies’ days old as well as seniors who are more than 100. It does not matter how old you are, what color your eyes are or how good your eyesight is, the key is that the cornea does not have any blood vessels, so there is a much lower chance of rejection. There is no need to find a “match” in terms of the immune system, the way that other body parts like bone marrow, hearts, lungs or kidneys require. Since 1961, more than 1,500,000 men, women and children worldwide have had their sight restored through corneal transplantation. Right now, there are 10 million cornea-blind individuals worldwide.

“CORE is so grateful for this promising partnership with Dr. Parekh, who’s been a long-time advocate for donation,” said Susan Stuart, president and CEO of CORE.

“For the first time, patients like Paula, who need sight-restoring corneal transplants, don’t have to travel to receive the care they need. And because of this dedication to serve his community, Dr. Parekh allows CORE to fulfill our mission to heal those who have lost their vision.”

For Paula’s condition, Dr. Parekh recommended a Corneal Endothelial Transplant, a newer and more advanced version of the traditional cornea transplant.

“In this type of surgery, only the inner layer of the cornea is transplanted,” Dr. Parekh said. “This allows for a much safer surgery with fewer complications and a much quicker recovery for the patient. Patients only need two sutures are usually seeing quite well within a month. The downside is that it is much more technically difficult for the surgeon to perform.”

Steven M. Greenberg, M.D., was the first surgeon in the area to perform cornea transplants, several decades ago. Dr. Greenberg remembers how different the process was in those days, performing the traditional type of transplant. The eye bank had not developed its role, and proper cornea preservation techniques had not been invented yet, so he would have to call patients urgently and tell them to come to the hospital for their transplant whenever an organ donor passed away. In a stressful, often in the middle of the night surgery, Dr. Greenberg would procure the cornea from the organ donor and transplant it immediately into the recipient.

“Some forty years after our practice introduced corneal transplantation into the area, I was fascinated and gratified to learn about the new and vastly improved techniques for this type of procedure being performed by Dr. Parekh. We are fortunate to have a surgeon of his skill and training in the area.” Steven M. Greenberg, M.D.

Paula reported “the surgical experience was amazingly simple. I spent less than an hour in the operating room and the entire process was so efficient and painless. The nurses, the staff, the anesthesia team at Clarion Hospital, they are a well-oiled machine. I was back at home in St. Marys before I knew it and got to sleep at home in my own bed after surgery.”

Within a few days, Paula was back to driving and she was almost 20/20 just two weeks after surgery.

Clarion Hospital is proud to be able to offer the opportunity for our patients to have surgeries of this magnitude at our facility.

“We are pleased to have Dr. Parekh on the medical staff at Clarion Hospital. He is an asset to our community, providing services in Clarion that otherwise would have to be referred out to the larger institutions” said Byron Quinton, CEO of Clarion Hospital.

Clarion Hospital continues to build relationships offering life-changing surgeries for our patients, such as the corneal transplant surgery Paula received. Offering quality care close to home for our patients is always our top priority.

Paula concluded, “None of this could have been possible without the generosity of people who are organ donors, and the entire team working together, including CORE, Clarion Hospital, the doctors, and nurses. I hope everyone out there will consider registering at the local DMV or at CORE’s website ( A single organ donor can help literally help dozens of patients’ lead better lives…and who knows, it might just be your next door neighbor you are helping.”

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