The Eye Bank Today
Lone Star Lions Eye Bank is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of sight restoration through the operation of eye donor services as well as the advancement of medical research, public policy, and community awareness with a Board of Directors from 3 Central Texas Lions Districts.
Since 2001, Lone Star Lions Eye Bank has been located in Manor, just outside of Austin, Texas. The Eye Bank has operated in Central Texas for over 40 years and currently serves 36 counties.
The Eye Bank operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year providing the best quality of eye tissue possible to transplant surgeons. Lone Star Lions Eye Bank first provides tissue to local surgeons, then statewide, nationwide, and internationally. The Eye Bank is accredited by EBAA (Eye Bank Association of America and registered with the FDA).
The Path to the Present
In 1925, Helen Keller challenged Lions Club members to become “Knights for the Blind.” The members of the Lions Club, an international community service organization, accepted Ms. Keller’s challenge and a large-scale effort toward supporting sight conservation and restoration began.
In the early 1970’s, a young physician named Richard E. Nieman came to Austin to set up his ophthalmology practice. He took his idea of beginning an Eye Bank to the local Austin Lions clubs and quickly won their support and in 1974, Lions Eye Bank of District 2-S3 was established. The Lions clubs in Central Texas (known as District 2-S3) undertook to support the charitable mission of eye donation and sight restoration. Seton Medical Center gave the Eye Bank its first home, a small closet area in the Eye Lab behind the Emergency Room.
From these humble beginnings, Dan Pittsford became the first Executive Director and Dr. Richard Nieman joined as Medical Director. During the Eye Bank’s early years, donor tissues were primarily recovered from the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office and patients remained on a waiting list until tissues became available.
In 1989, Lions District 2-S3 split into two districts (2-S3 and 2-S5) and the Eye Bank’s name changed to Lions Eye Bank of Districts 2-S3 and 2-S5 to reflect the support of both regional areas. The steady pace of growth continued and brought new challenges to the Eye Bank. In 1992, Seton Hospital in Austin, Texas offered the Eye Bank a small basement room in Seton Medical Park Towers next door to the hospital. In December 1993, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) began regulating Eye Banks. Federal regulation has proven to be one of the most significant and demanding changes in non-profit Eye Banking.
In 1994, Bess Beliveaux was named Executive Director. To this day, the Eye Bank maintains its accreditation with the EBAA and registers annually with the FDA. In 1995, the number of Central Texas counties the Eye Bank served grew from 21 to 36 when the Lions Clubs of Districts 2-X3 elected to sponsor the Eye Bank. The Eye Bank’s new name reflected the change: Lions Eye Bank of Central Texas.
As the Eye Bank grew and became more successful, a larger space was needed. In 1997, the Eye Bank re-located to St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. In 2000, the Eye Bank achieved a goal never before thought possible: more than 1,000 donor corneas were placed for transplantation in one year.
The Eye Bank outgrew the space provided by St. David’s Medical Center and the Board of Directors and staff decided it was time to find a permanent and affordable home for the Eye Bank. In 2000, the Eye Bank began its Capital Campaign and in 2001 acquired a structure in Manor, Texas that could house administrative offices, a laboratory and a Memorial Garden.
The Eye Bank has been headquartered in Manor since 2001. The building houses a lobby and conference area, Executive Director’s office, large office spaces, dry lab, wet lab, technical work area, kitchen, break area and a beautiful Memorial Garden.
Dr. Richard Nieman retired in 2009 and Dr. Yen Nieman (no relation) became the new Medical Director.
In 2014, LSLEB renovated the lab to include two state of the art processing rooms in order to perform advanced tissue processing for DSAEK and DMEK surgeries in order to keep up to date to new surgeries. In 2017, Erica Garcia was named Executive Director to replace David Butters. Upon the resignation of Executive Director Erica Garcia in 2018, Daniel Mercado was named Interim Executive Director. Dr. Scott D. Kelly came on board as the new Medical Director in June 2018.
The Lone Star Lions Eye Bank now offers DMEK tissue.
Bigger and Better things to come!