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Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research building 2019

Our History

Since 1973, Lions Eye Institute has worked to support people who are blind or visually impaired through innovative ocular endeavors.

From our humble beginnings, Lions Eye Institute has grown into a state-of-the-art hub for ocular tissue preparation, musculoskeletal tissue recovery, research, and pediatric vision health to transform the lives of people in our community and around the world.

2020

NEW TransplantREADY™ LEITR DSAEK 3.0 for preloaded DSAEK graft
DSAEK 3.0

Our DSAEK 3.0 represents another innovation in preloaded grafts. The first of its kind design expands DSAEK surgical options and increases the benefits of utilizing preloaded DSAEK tissue.

2020

OptiGraft™ sterile tissue available for glaucoma and corneal applications

OptiGraft™ sterile ophthalmic allografts for glaucoma and corneal applications was developed by Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research (LEITR) to increase the potential availability donated tissue. We have streamlined the preparation and sterilization process to provide premium sterile allografts with an optimal safety profile.

2019

TransplantREADY™ DMEK Endo-In

The addition of TransplantREADY™ DMEK Endo-In expanded the surgical options and helped advance DMEK surgery by allowing surgeons more control for complex cases.

2019

TransplantREADY™ Carrier for preloaded DMEK and PDEK grafts

The TransplantREADY™ Carrier provides additional convenience for surgeons requesting preloaded corneal grafts. Preloaded tissue is stabilized during shipping and easily accessed.

2018

LEITR DMEK 2.0

The addition of the LEITR 2.0 Micro Jones tube expanded the options for surgeons offering DMEK to their patients and presented important benefits from its design, including small incision and cell preservation.

2018

Merger with RTI Donor Services
eye bank technician walking down hallway with wheeled case

The merger with RTI Donor Services allowed the organization to expand its services to include the recovery of other kinds of human tissue including bone, skin, heart valve, and other life-transforming tissues.

2017

Established One World Sight Alliance, Donation Awareness Patch Program

One World Sight Alliance is a partnership of 22 eye banks who work in unison to maximize the gift of donation.

In partnership with the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida and DonateLife, we developed a Donation Awareness Patch Program to help young girls understand the importance of and advocate for organ, eye, and tissue donation.

2017

Acquisition of International Sight Restoration

The acquisition of International Sight Restoration allowed us to expand our international distribution of ocular tissue. Upon completion of the acquisition we became a global leader in the distribution of ocular tissue. We currently work with over 50 countries to restore sight to those living with blinding corneal diseases.

2016

Pre-Descemet's endothelial keratoplasty (PDEK) corneal grafts

The Blister Method expanded processing services available to surgeons, like Dr. Ahad Mahootchi, who performed the first PDEK in Florida with tissue processed at Lions Eye Institute.

2015

New corneal preparation services for DMEK procedures; New DMEK and DSAEK processing techniques provide tremendous advantages over standard method

Graft preparation for Descemet’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK) procedures and preloaded DMEK grafts were subsequently offered, allowing surgeons to concentrate on transplanting the graft instead of the tissue preparation. 

We were the first eye bank to perform truly no-touch processing for DMEK and PDEK grafts using hydrodissection technique (Blister Method). Studies proved the Blister Method offers tremendous advantages over the SCUBA technique.

The High Pressurized Anterior Chamber (HPAC) technique was standardized to prepare precision DSAEK grafts. Surgeons performing Ultrathin DSAEK could request graft thicknesses of 40-60 microns.

2014

Awarded first of many Historic Preservation Grants from Hillsborough County

Restoring our headquarters is a passion project and we are proud to preserve our 1907 cigar factory building. This would not be possible without the support of Hillsborough County. Since we started renovations, we have replaced the soffits, fascia, and windows, repointed the interior and exterior brick and replaced the roof.

2012

First eye bank to offer preloaded corneal grafts

2010

Name changed to Lions Eye Institute for Transplant & Research

After establishing the Ocular Research Center, our Board of Directors chose to change the name again to better reflect our work. Lions Eye Institute for Transplant & Research is now a household name throughout the community and with our surgeon partners around the world.

2009

Ribbon Cutting for the Ocular Research Center

Establishing the Ocular Research Center was important to the long-term vision of our organization. We built a separate facility on the property for this specific purpose where we work with academic, pharmaceutical, and other research partners to arrest, delay, and cure blinding eye diseases that cannot be cured with a cornea transplant.

2007

Our name was changed to Central Florida Lions Eye and Tissue Bank. This was also the inaugural year of the Eye Ball gala.

The Eye Ball is the signature fundraiser held annually by Lions Eye Institute Foundation. The event raises funds to support our Gratis Ocular Tissue Program, providing sight-saving surgery to individuals who cannot afford it, and other important initiatives.

2005

Central Florida Lions Eye Bank purchased the F. Lozano Cigar Factory and established the Lions Eye Institute Foundation

The F. Lozano Cigar factory was retrofitted for our Eye Banking purposes and since then, we have completed many renovations to restore the building to its historic glory.

The Lions Eye Institute Foundation serves as the charitable and fundraising arm of Lions Eye Institute for Transplant & Research. It has a separate Board of Directors.

In 2005 we also merged with North Florida Lions Eye Bank – a move that allowed our organization to serve our neighbors in North Florida.

2001

Inaugural Race for Sight

This special event began as a small gathering of people who believe in restoring sight. Now rebranded as Roar Through Ybor, the event boasts nearly 1,600 participants and is a valuable partnership between the Lions Eye Institute Foundation and LifeLink Legacy Fund. This annual event raises awareness of organ, eye, and tissue donation.

1996

Jason Woody became the CEO of Central Florida Lions Eye Bank.

Jason began his career at Lions Eye Institute as an Eye Bank Technician. The organization has seen a lot of positive change and growth during his nearly 30-year tenure.

1983

Lion Dan Carter secures a $35,000 matching grant from Lions International to move the Eye Bank to its own facility.

Lions Eye Institute was able to purchase a condo on Westshore Boulevard in Tampa. Because Lion Dan Carter was instrumental in obtaining this grant, he was regarded as the “Father of the Central Florida Lions Eye Bank. We give an award in his name to exceptional Lions who serve above and beyond to honor his service.

At this time, the Eye Bank was fully staffed with three employees offering 24/7 technical coverage of the Tampa Bay area.

1973

Central Florida Lions Eye Bank was formally dedicated at the University of South Florida.

Lions International Past President, Dr. Walter H. Campbell gave the dedication speech. Lion John Bartley was elected as the first President, the first Medical Director was Dr. William Edwards, and the first paid employee was Eye Bank Technician, John Brisner.

Early 1970’s

Lions Club members from St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Tampa realized the need for an eye bank located in central Florida.

While there were already two eye banks in Florida: North Florida Lions Eye Bank in Jacksonville and Florida Lions Eye Bank in Miami, there was no single, consistent non-profit serving donor families and recipients in the central Florida area.

Lions John Bartley, Lawrence Dye, Peter Leto, Daniel Carter, Harold Hamacher, Robert Reilly, and Lionesses Marion Hamacher and Clare Miller were instrumental in forming the vision to establish the Central Florida Lions Eye Bank.

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