Alaska Air Cargo Helps SightLife Combat Corneal Blindness

SightLife

Founded in 1969 and based in Seattle, Washington, SightLife is a nonprofit global health organization dedicated to eliminating corneal blindness worldwide by 2040. In 2018 alone, SightLife helped restore the sight of more than 36,000 people around the world.

What is corneal blindness? Corneal blindness is the loss of sight caused by damage to the surface of the eye. It’s a treatable condition with a clear solution — a corneal transplant. Yet, because of a shortage of transplant tissue and insufficient surgeon training, there are almost 13 million people in the world, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, who are suffering from this type of blindness. The toll on families can be devastating. In these regions, corneal blindness means losing one’s independence and livelihood, or a child unable to go to school. Consequently, sight restoration has a profound impact on individuals, their families, and their communities.

Low- and middle-income countries are impacted the most. In the United States, cornea injuries such as scratches often can be treated with just medication. And if a transplant is required, there’s no waiting list for corneal transplant. Thanks to a large donor registry, high-performing eye banks and supportive policies in place, a patient can simply make an appointment. This strong ecosystem does not exist in low- and middle-income countries. Many cornea injuries don’t get treated at all. And blindness is often the unfortunate result of lack of treatment.

SightLife

SightLife’s mission is to completely eliminate corneal blindness globally by 2040. Alaska Air Cargo’s role in this mission is to help SightLife quickly transfer healthy corneal tissue from donors to labs and eye banks around the U.S., and sometimes even for international transfer. Alaska Air Cargo has been working with SightLife for 15+ years, shipping corneal tissue an average of three to four times per day. In 2018 alone, Alaska Air Cargo shipped more than 2,600 corneas, almost entirely via GoldStreak overnight service.

Speed plus quality equals a higher transplant success rate. Donor tissue must be handled expediently and carefully. “Speed, service, and reliability are why we love Alaska Air Cargo,” SightLife’s COO Jim McCorkle says. “They service nearly all of our rural regions — as far apart as Montana and North Carolina — where our technicians recover or distribute tissue. Since Alaska Air Cargo has fewer delayed or canceled flights, their reliability is a huge plus for our operation.”

Unique stewards. SightLife views itself as “stewards of a special gift.” It is very important to donor families that their “gift” is honored, protected, nurtured, and ultimately used to restore the sight of another person. “Corneas need to be handled with extreme care,” says McCorkle. “They take personal responsibility to ensure the tissue stays safe. In our rural areas where GoldStreak hours may vary, there have been Alaska personnel who stayed later than usual so that they can receive and ship our tissue.”

That personal responsibility extends to times when delays are inevitable. “When we have a deadline to get tissue to our lab, the Alaska Airlines staff is always willing to help radio a driver to prioritize our shipment and bring it to the cargo area quicker than normal.”

The world through new eyes. In addition to providing corneal tissue, SightLife invests in scalable healthcare models that address challenges in global health systems in countries where the majority of the corneal blind live. Visit SightLife to learn more about their extraordinary mission and work.

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