Who We Are
Saving Sight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to change lives by saving sight. Founded in 1960, Saving Sight has grown to become one of the nation’s leading eye banks and is focused on providing innovative solutions to its clinical partners. Headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., Saving Sight facilitates eye donation in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois, impacting the lives of those both near and far through transplantation.
Our vision is to be the global partnership model for how eye banking and charitable vision services can most effectively serve people and communities. Thanks to the support of our organizational partners and the selfless gifts of eye donors and their families, we are able to change lives by saving sight.
More than 60 Years of Changing Lives by Saving Sight
In 1960, the Missouri Lions joined forces with the University of Missouri-Columbia to form the Lions Eye Tissue Bank. The Lions provided financial support, and the University supplied equipment, laboratory space, and staff. This allowed the “Gift of Sight” to become available in Missouri by providing the means to donate eyes, evaluate and distribute the corneas for corneal transplant surgery and utilize non-transplantable parts of donated eyes for research and medical education.
As corneal transplant surgery moved from an experimental technique in a university setting to a fairly common surgical procedure, it was recognized that a larger, “free-standing” facility was needed to serve university and private-practice surgeons alike. The 1970s laid the groundwork for what would eventually become Saving Sight. In 1972, The Eye Research Foundation of Missouri was formalized as a publicly owned, nonprofit organization.
In that same year, the Board of Trustees of the Bethesda Eye Foundation (BEF) in Bethesda, MD agreed to name the Eye Research Foundation of Missouri as its successor and contributed $850,000 to the newly formed organization. By 1974, the Foundation began construction on its new facility in eastern Columbia, using the BEF resources, $250,000 contributed by the Missouri Lions, and six acres of land donated by Byron and Gail Keene. The organization moved into the Keene Street location and the Missouri Lions continued to support the eye banking activities while the Foundation added several programs, such as ocular research and glaucoma screening.
At the 1987 State Convention, the Missouri Lions voted to accept financial responsibility for all programs at the Eye Research Foundation, renaming it the Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation. The Foundation continued to grow throughout the years. St. Louis Children’s Hospital and St. Louis-area Lions piloted an amblyopia screening program in 1995 that the Foundation then grew statewide. Today, that program is called KidSight, which operates as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit.
In 1997, cornea donation operations expanded into central Illinois and Kansas. This prompted the creation of Heartland Lions Eye Banks, with the cooperation of the Illinois and Kansas Lions, which soon became one of the largest providers in the world of human corneas for transplantation and eye tissue for medical research. To date, Saving Sight has provided tissue for more than 40,000 cornea transplant surgeries.
In 2013, the organization underwent a strategic planning initiative, engaging stakeholders from its many areas of service. One recommendation was to carry out an organizational rebranding effort, allowing the nonprofit to easily identify with additional community stakeholders like transplant recipients and donor families, extending its reach within the community. As a result, in 2013, the board of directors approved adopting the name Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation, doing business as Saving Sight. Subsequently, in early 2014, the Missouri Lions Multiple District 26-MD voted to approve the addition of doing business as Saving Sight to the organization’s name at their Annual Convention.
On June 1, 2021, Saving Sight and the Kansas Eye Bank & Cornea Research Center, Inc., entered into a partnership and integrated to operate a Wichita location as Kansas Eye Bank, a division of Saving Sight. This partnership increases the organization’s ability to save sight in communities across the state of Kansas and beyond.
The Kansas Eye Bank (KEB) brings its own rich history into this partnership as well. Dr. Bruce Grene established the organization began in 1986 as the Wichita Eye Foundation with the goal of recovering eye tissue for corneal transplantation. In 2003, they underwent a name change to the Mid-Continent Eye Bank to better reflect their geographical service area. In 2007, the eye bank became known as the Kansas Eye Bank & Cornea Research Center, Inc., to better communicate the full scope of services offered to their partners.
Saving Sight has undergone many transformations over the past 60 years, but the mission remains the same: we change lives by saving sight.