Ex-Starbucks Exec Helps Develop Global Eye Banks

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Some 10 million people suffer from corneal blindness. It’s relatively rare in the U.S., and if you have it, you’re likely to have a corneal transplant and your vision will be restored. But in the developing world, where most corneal blindness occurs, it’s a different matter.

Now, a Seattle-based nonprofit is applying lessons learned in the coffee business in its efforts to bring sight to as many people as it can.

Tucked away in a downtown Seattle office building is one of the largest eye banks in the world. It’s run by an organization called SightLife. It finds organ donors, collects the corneas from the newly deceased and prepares the tissue for surgery.

Tim Schottman, the senior vice president for global programs at SightLife, leads us into the lab, where technicians are peering into microscopes. He picks up a plastic cup containing a human cornea and points to the tissue that’s being evaluated.

“It was recovered probably in the last 24 hours,” he says. “And people in our lab right now are making an evaluation to determine whether it’s appropriate for transplantation.”

Schottman is a relative newcomer to the world of eye banks. Until 2008, he worked for Starbucks, where he learned a lot about taking an idea, scaling it up and making it work in a lot of countries and cultures. His background would prove invaluable to SightLife.

Source: NPR (link opens in a new window)