Cornea Transplant Surgery

If you need a cornea transplant, you will receive healthy cornea tissue from a deceased donor. In these situations, you, the patient, are also called a recipient since you are receiving eye tissue from a donor.

Two Types of Corneal Transplant Surgery

There are two main types of corneal transplant procedures:

  • Full thickness corneal transplant (also known as penetrating keratoplasty)
  • Partial thickness corneal transplant (also known as lamellar keratoplasty, which includes endothelial keratoplasty)

Your eye surgeon will determine which procedure is best for you based on your condition.

Both procedures have a high success rate of 95-99 percent.

Penetrating Keratoplasty

Surgeon removing diseased/damaged cornea
Surgeon placing donor cornea into patient
Surgeon will suture the donor cornea into place
The procedure is complete

During a penetrating keratoplasty, surgeons remove a circular, button-shaped, full thickness section of tissue from your cornea, usually when your cornea is injured or diseased. Then, surgeons position and suture into place a matching “button” of healthy corneal tissue from a donor. Utah Lions Eye Bank provides this healthy tissue for your transplant surgery.

A penetrating keratoplasty generally takes one to two hours. In most cases, you can go home soon after surgery.

Endothelial Keratoplasty

Surgeon removes the diseased/ damaged cornea
Surgeon implants a thin disk of donor tissue

During an endothelial keratoplasty, your ophthalmologist makes a tiny incision and places a thin disc of donor tissue on the back surface of your cornea. The Utah Lions Eye Bank provides this healthy tissue for your transplant surgery.

Your ophthalmologist then uses an air bubble to move the new endothelial layer into place.

This small incision will heal on its own. You may need one to two sutures (stitches) to close the incision.

Length of Surgery & Recovery

An endothelial keratoplasty generally takes sixty to ninety minutes. In most cases, you can go home soon after surgery, and the healing time is generally faster than with a penetrating keratoplasty. A penetrating keratoplasty generally takes one to two hours. Similar to an endothelial keratoplasty, you can usually go home soon after surgery, but healing time can take longer.

The Utah Lions Eye Bank works with surgeons domestically and all over the world.

Stories from Donors & Recipients

Read about these life-changing donations and learn how you can share your story.

What to Expect After Surgery

After a cornea transplant surgery, some discomfort is normal. But if you experience severe pain or have other concerns, please contact your ophthalmologist right away.

If you would like to share your gratitude with your donor family for their selfless gift by writing a letter, you can do so by visiting the Writing to Donor Family page. If you want to share how cornea donation and transplantation has changed your life please visit our Share your Story page.

What Will My Vision Be Like After Surgery?

You will have a final optical correction between four to six months after surgery.

After surgery, most patients are able to see fairly well with prescription glasses.

About 30 percent of patients will need contact lenses to see normally after a penetrating keratoplasty corneal transplant surgery.


Your eye surgeon will determine if you will need medications during your recovery.

Recovering Successfully from Surgery

Successful corneal transplantation requires a cooperative effort between your eye surgeon and you.

It is your doctor’s responsibility to keep you well-educated and catch any problems early before they may threaten to harm your eyesight.

It is your responsibility to follow the doctor’s instruction carefully. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions about medication and make any return trips to your doctor’s office on time.