In one year alone, a significant drop in the wait time for corneal transplants

Québec, December 19, 2011—In 2011, close to 200 people waiting for a corneal transplant saw their vision improve. This is a 27% reduction in the waiting list compared with just a year ago. Some 536 Québec residents are currently waiting for a corneal transplant compared with 730 in November 2010. Among the explanations for this phenomenon are a new approach to supplying corneas and the role played by Héma-Québec.

Since January 2009, Héma-Québec has been responsible for the donor qualification process, collection of eyeballs and regulatory framework governing these activities. Added to these responsibilities is oversight of the process for assigning corneas to surgeons, a role that naturally falls within the range of activities already carried out by the organization. Héma-Québec assumed this mandate following a partnership agreement with Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital for the management of the Québec Eye Bank in Montréal. A similar partnership agreement reached in the Québec City region with the Centre hospitalier affilié universitaire de Québec (CHA) will come into effect on January 1, 2012.

“Improving the supply of corneas to medical specialists has had a real impact in the field. The 2009 partnership agreement between the Québec Eye Bank in Montréal and Héma-Québec has truly produced results. This alliance has made it possible to better respond to the needs of patients waiting for a corneal transplant, and this is largely due to the intervention of Héma-Quebec,” said Dr. Michèle Mabon, an ophthalmologist at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital.

“This is great news, first and foremost for the people who need a corneal transplant. It shows that Héma-Québec’s intervention in this area, which began several months ago, is having a real impact,” added Dr. Jean De Serres, President and CEO ofHéma-Québec. “It’s a wonderful way for us to mark our 10 years in human tissues.”

Indeed, Héma-Québec is celebrating its10th year of human tissues activities. Better known for its role in managing the collective blood supply of Quebecers, Héma-Québec has also been acting as the supplier of human tissues for transplantation since December 18, 2001. In addition to the collection of eyeballs for use in corneal transplantation, the organization makes available to hospitals skin grafts, heart valves and musculoskeletal tissues, such as tendons and bones.

Justifying his decision to entrust this mandate to Héma-Québec in the face of increased activities in the transplantation of tissues, including bone, tendon, skin, heart valve and corneas, the minister of health and social services at the time stated that “The handling of human tissues carries similar risks to those encountered when handling blood products.” He pointed to the emergence of many small tissue banks that were not legally constituted or recognized by the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS).

Dr. Yves Bolduc, current Minister of Health and Social Services, expressed his great satisfaction with the efforts deployed and the results obtained by Héma-Québec in the field of corneal transplantation. “Once again this organization has demonstrated its technical competence and sense of organization for the benefit of clinicians and patients. Héma-Québec deserves our complete trust for its remarkable work in both tissue transplantation and the blood supply.”

Making progress

Unlike blood products, Héma-Québec is not the exclusive supplier of human tissues to Québec hospitals. Nevertheless the organization ensures that specialists are supplied with tissues and grafts of optimal quality and in sufficient quantity.

The distribution of human tissues was up 41% in the last fiscal year. The total number of human tissues distributed was 3,708 in 2010–2011, compared with 2,631 the previous fiscal year. There was sustained growth in all types of tissues, especially tendons (+110%) and skin tissue (+76 %). The distribution of corneas, for its part, rose by 48% compared with 2009–2010, for a total of 599. Finally, the number of heart valves distributed increased by 14%, going from 58 last year to 66 this year. Given the global shortage of this type of product and the difficulty in obtaining referrals, this performance was excellent.

About Héma-Québec 

Héma-Québec aims to efficiently provide adequate quantities of safe, optimal blood components, substitutes, human tissues and cord blood to meet all Quebecers’ needs; provide and develop expertise along with specialized and innovative services and products in the fields of transfusion medicine and human tissue transplantation.
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