Corneal Transplant

What Is Corneal Transplant Surgery?

Corneal transplant surgery is eye surgery that replaces a damaged or diseased cornea with healthy tissue from a donor cornea. It can restore vision, minimize pain, and improve the cornea’s appearance. Our board-certified eye surgeons perform the procedure, called a corneal transplant or corneal graft, at our Oklahoma City center.

How Is a Corneal Transplant Performed?

Even though corneal transplant procedures are still commonly performed with a handheld blade, at nJoy Vision our surgeons use an Intralase femtosecond laser to perform corneal transplants in a procedure called Intralase enabled keratoplasty.

Intralase Enabled Keratoplasty (IEK)?

Intralase enabled keratoplasty (IEK) is the first of its kind to utilize modern technology to create the incision in both the donor and recipient tissues. IEK incorporates the Intralase femtosecond laser with cornea transplant surgery. Unlike conventional corneal transplant surgery, the IEK procedure uses Intralase femtosecond laser technology to create the incision into both the donor and the recipient tissue. This method allows the surgeon to prepare the donor and recipient tissue in a similar fashion with the precision of the Intralase laser. The donor cornea fits almost perfectly into the recipient’s eye.

When tissue is transplanted in its entirety, the procedure is called penetrating keratoplasty (PKP). When partial tissue is transplanted, it is called lamellar keratoplasty. A cornea transplant is typically performed as an outpatient procedure.


The recovery period for IEK procedures is generally just 6 to 7 months, compared to the 18-month visual rehabilitation timetable for non-laser transplant techniques. IEK procedures offer increased accuracy, less surgically-induced astigmatism, and a generally quick visual recovery.

Corneal Transplant FAQs

What is a cornea and what does it do?

The cornea is the transparent, dome-shaped surface of your eye. This surface is responsible for focusing light much like the lens of a camera. The cornea must be clear and regular because it accounts for a large part of your eye’s focusing power.

What is the advantage of using a laser in transplant surgery?

Historically, a trephine or hand-held blade system was used in transplant surgery, resulting in weaker incisions. This required sutures to remain in place for up to a year after the surgery. Post-operative astigmatism often developed, requiring rigid gas permeable contact lenses to correct vision.

The newer femtosecond laser technique uses a precise laser to remove only the abnormal corneal tissue and conserving the patient’s endothelial cells. It may also reduce the risk of rejection. IEK allows the early removal of sutures (due to much stronger wounds after laser), which may result in earlier visual rehabilitation within 7 months as opposed to the 18 months with the older techniques.

Where does the donor tissue come from?

Corneas are sourced from regional “eye banks.” The donor tissue is rigorously inspected for suitability and safety.

What are the reasons for a corneal transplant?

Transplants may be performed to restore vision by replacing scarred, diseased or physically distorted corneal tissue with clear, non-distorted healthy tissue. Often, these are typically caused by keratoconus, trauma or infections. Your physician may also recommend transplantation to improve the appearance of corneal scars.

What is the risk of transplant failure?

Corneal rejection is uncommon. In the rare event it occurs, it can be treated medically in most circumstances. Rarely, a loss of transparency occurs due to rejection or repeated eye surgeries. If this occurs, another procedure may be performed at the discretion of your surgeon.

Most corneal transplants last well beyond 10 years. Corneal transplant patients require bi-annual ophthalmic checkups to ensure optimal eye health.

Cornea donor tissue is rigorously inspected for suitability and safety.

How soon does my vision become functional?

This varies from patient to patient and depends on the surgical technique used during the procedure and achievable pre-operative vision. The new femtosecond laser technique (IEK) offers most patients the ability to achieve vision for limited function, without contacts or glasses, within 2 to 3 weeks. At 6 to 7 months after surgery, when some or all of the sutures have been removed, most patients may achieve 20/40 vision or better with glasses or contacts.

The non-laser technique has a much longer recovery period. A similar outcome may be reached at 12-18 months. In many cases, laser vision correction can be performed after corneal transplantation surgery to address residual astigmatism or nearsightedness. The timing of this depends on the cornea’s stability.

When can I resume normal activities?

This varies from patient to patient. In general, it is safe to resume normal, non-contact physical activities, such as going to the gym, golfing, etc., within 1 month.

Will my eye color change?

No, your eye color stays the same. The transplant involves only the transparent clear cornea and not the colored part of the eye (iris).

Does medical insurance cover the cost of a corneal transplant?

Coverage depends entirely on the insurance policy and the medical necessity of the procedure. At nJoy Vision, we will verify what your specific insurance will cover.

Many women and men with vision issues need eye exams to determine the best treatment plan. You can request a free consultation at nJoy Vision with one of our eye doctors using the online form or call us at (405) 842-6060 to schedule an appointment.


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