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Dakota Lions Sight & Health Celebrates 25 Years

Oct 30, 2016 12:11PM ● By Alex Strauss
This year, Dakota Lions Sight and Health celebrates a significant milestone in their journey marking 25 years of helping to “restore of the gifts of sight and health” in our region and beyond.

It is hard to believe that the diversified organization that exists today began with just a handful of Lions Clubs members who had a vision of sponsoring a “Lions Eye Bank.”

Prior to the establishment of the region’s first eye bank, ophthalmologists like Dr. Thomas White of Sioux Falls and Dr. Paul Wright of Rapid City, were identifying and recovering corneas themselves, specifically for their own patients.

But Lions Club members in both South Dakota and North Dakota had a dream inspired by the Lions Club International Foundation and the work of Helen Keller to create centralized eye banks to meet an even greater demand for corneal tissue nationally and internationally. That vision led to the establishment of the South Dakota Lions Eye Bank which officially opened on February 14, 1991.

The first base of operations was in a small lab located in the lower level of Sioux Valley Hospital (later renamed Sanford Health) and later moved into a house-turned-office across the street. A satellite facility was established in Rapid City to serve the needs on that end of the state.

As the organization developed and grew, a new building was constructed specifically for the Eye Bank.This building opened in August 2010 in Sioux Falls and still serves as the organization’s corporate headquarters.

In 2014, another satellite facility opened in Bismarck, ND and in 2015 the South Dakota Lions Eye & Tissue Bank and the Lions Eye Bank of North Dakota, affiliated to form a unified organization known as Dakota Lions Sight & Health.

Today, DLSH is a nationally-recognized and accredited eye bank, providing nearly 1,000 corneas for transplant per year with satellite offices in Rapid City, Bismarck, and Fargo. DLSH is proud to continue this incredible momentum marked by an increased number of eye and tissue donations and transplants, state-of-the-art tissue preparation technology, and new hospital and recovery partnerships.

As DLSH continues to grow and expand, the organization remains dedicated to its mission of helping those affected to overcome corneal blindness and to heal disabling injuries. The task is not always easy. DLSH staff work daily to continue to improve quality and build relationships that support donor families, donors, recipients, and donation partners.

From the moment a call is received, an enormous amount of coordination with the donor family, healthcare providers, coroners, funeral homes, and other recovery agencies begins. This work requires dedication, compassion, and attention to detail. Ultimately, the work of DLSH represented just the first ink in a chain that culminates in the surgery to restore sight, ease pain, restore mobility, and in some cases, save a life. Of course, none of this is possible without the selfless gift of donation.

Throughout 2017, DLSH will be remembering and celebrating the organization’s roots, its achievements, and its plans for the future. The organization expects to see 1,200 corneas transplanted in 2017. Thousands more will be impacted by the gifts of tissue and research donation.

As the only eye and tissue bank based in both South and North Dakota, DLSH is devoted to continuing its important mission and creating a culture that values relationships, donor families, and donors. They have plans to expand the new facilities in North Dakota to provide additional corneal processing and look forward to another great 25 years.