In the beginning
In 1925, Helen Keller addressed the assembly at the Lions Clubs International Convention and challenged Lions to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.”
In the mid-1960s, a task force comprised of Lions was formed to start an eye bank in South Dakota with the support of SD Lions Clubs. At the time, eye banking was not regulated and funeral directors, doctors, and nurses often recovered the eyes from donors. Lions Clubs members would then transport, in relay fashion the, ocular tissue to the borders of Minnesota and Nebraska for further transport to the established eye banks in Minneapolis and Omaha.
Volunteers & One Eye Doctor’s Office
Dr. Thomas White started an eye bank that he operated part-time out of his clinic on S Minnesota Ave in Sioux Falls. It was staffed by volunteers who were dedicated to restoring sight through cornea donation. Dr. White led the endeavor for placing many corneas, however, it was soon realized that as the need for corneas increased, Dr. White and the volunteer group knew it was time to establish a full-time organization.
In 1990, the Lions of South Dakota established a second task force that would work to establish a fully functioning eye bank in South Dakota that would be governed by the Lions of South Dakota.
The Lions Pursue Keller’s Challenge
Lion Eugene Otto, a District Governor from Aberdeen, SD and a member of the Board of Directors of the South Dakota Lions Sight & Service Foundation, made the initial announcement in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that they would be the official sponsors of the South Dakota Eye Bank (SDLEB). Soon thereafter, the Board voted to establish the facility in donated space at Sioux Valley Hospital (now Sanford Health) in Sioux Falls. At the same time, plans were also announced to establish a satellite facility in Rapid City.
Through donations by Lions, community members, and other groups, over $70,000 was raised to cover initial costs and operations for one year. The move to Sioux Valley was completed after three rooms were converted to 525 sq. ft. of office space. The official opening of the South Dakota Lions Eye Bank was on February 14, 1991. By the end of that year, the Eye Bank placed 99 corneas for transplant from the generous donations of 123 donors.
Due to the growth of the Eye Bank and Sioux Valley’s need for more space, the SDLEB moved across the street into a house-turned-office that was rented from Sioux Falls Seminary. Renovations were made that included a separate eye bank laboratory in addition to sufficient office space. The Eye Bank remained at that location until 2010. During this time, the organization worked with the Red Cross to recover non-ocular tissue in addition to eye tissue. When the Red Cross moved out of tissue donation, the SDLEB established a division called Spirit of the North Tissue Services and continued to recover tissue throughout South Dakota.
Expansion and Growth
As the organization continued to grow and expand, the SDLEB decided it was appropriate to seek a dedicated facility for eye and tissue banking. Through careful planning and fundraising, a new facility was completed in 2010 at the current location in northwestern Sioux Falls. The move into the new, state-of-the-art, 16,000 sq. ft. building took place on August 16, 2010. The new facility includes a dedicated laboratory, two surgical recovery suites, in-house instrument sterilization, and sufficient office space to house all organizational activities.
In 2010, it was also decided that the eye bank and the tissue recovery division should merge and operate under one name. At the October 2010 Board of Directors meeting, the name was officially changed to South Dakota Lions Eye & Tissue Bank.
Dakota Lions Sight & Health
In 2014, the SDLETB was approached by the Lions Eye Bank of North Dakota to assist with ocular tissue distribution. During this time of collaboration and partnership, it was decided that a single, unified organization would better serve the people of the Dakota region. In early 2016, after months of planning, the two organizations became one and began operating under the name Dakota Lions Sight & Health.
This name reflects who we are – a unified organization serving the people of South Dakota, North Dakota, Northern Nebraska, and Southwest Minnesota. We employ nearly 40 full and part time staff throughout the Dakota region. We currently facilitate over 760 cornea transplants per year from over 550 donors. Tissue distributed by Dakota Lions Sight & Health is transplanted in SD, ND, the greater region, the United States, and throughout the world.
Dakota Lions Sight & Health is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is headquartered in Sioux Falls, SD with remote offices in Rapid City, SD and Bismarck, ND. Our service area encompasses the states of South and North Dakota, along with northern Nebraska and western Minnesota.