The East Tennessee Eye Bank was started in 1964 by District Governor, Dr. Harvey G. Coker, who was a general practitioner in Knoxville and who was later qualified as an ophthalmologist. The Eye Bank had its beginnings in Dr. Coker’s office, and Betty McClaugherty, who was his office manager, took on the initial duties of managing the affairs of the Eye Bank. Within that first year, the Lions from the Clubs of District 12-N voted in their convention to support the financial needs of the Eye Bank as a Project of the District.
Working closely with Dr. Coker in the beginning were Lions Leon Steinberg of Knoxville, Hugh Wallace of Andersonville, Charles C. Lindsay of Knoxville, James P. Masters of Newport, and Doctors J. Ed Campbell of Knoxville and Alfred Costner of Johnson City, Tennessee.
Representatives from 48 Lions Clubs in East Tennessee voted to take the financial step to sponsor the Eye Bank on December 20, 1964, after the definite need for such an eye bank had been established. This Eye Bank became a project of the Lions Clubs of District 12-N and District 12-O.
One of the first donors to the East Tn Lions Eye Bank was the Mayor of Knoxville, Mr. George Dempster. A sailor, just out of the service, was a recipient gifted with one of Mr. Dempster’s corneas. At that time, a doctor had to do the retrieval and placement of the cornea within 48 hours; however, 24 hours was the preferred time.
In 1967, Dr. Coker, a General Practitioner, announced that he would leave his practice and return to medical school to specialize in eye surgery. Betty McClaugherty, who had worked for Dr. Coker since 1965, was asked to work for the East Tn Lions Eye Bank full time.
The Eye Bank soon became a member of the Eye Bank Association of America and gained a wealth of information on policy and procedure for Eye Banks at the regional and national meetings. Past District Governor Charles C. Lindsay, Betty McClaugherty, and Dr. David Gerkin each served as President of the Southeast Region of the EBAA.
Educating the public, holding in-service programs for medical personnel, visiting Lions Clubs and other civic groups, and providing display booths were then and remain major projects of the East Tn Lions Eye Bank.
In 1983, the Lions of District 12-O removed their support of the East Tennessee Eye Bank and formed an Eye Bank at the Miller Eye Center in Chattanooga. After the formation of the Eye Bank in Chattanooga, the East Tennessee Eye Bank continued to serve the eastern part of the State.
In 1990, Betty McClaugherty retired from the East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank, and Stephanie Maiden was hired as Executive Director. Stephanie remained with the East Tn Lions Eye Bank until March of 1998. In June 1998, The Board voted to hire Valerie Stewart, then Director of the Low Vision Rehabilitation Center from Retina Associates of East Tennessee, P.C., to be the new Executive Director.
The eye tissue processed by the East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank has continued to increase each year. This increase is due to a number of factors, including in-service training sessions with the nursing staffs of local hospitals to make them aware of the need for donor tissue. There have also been changes in Tennessee laws, i.e. the Tennessee Donor Registry, that have helped the donation of eye tissue. The most notable effect is that the number of persons on lists waiting for eye tissue to become available has continued to decrease to the point where cornea transplants are now considered a “scheduled surgery” as opposed to emergent.
With the help of the District 12-N Lions Clubs and the East Tennessee community, East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank hopes to continue this growth and success.