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4th Anniversary Issue!
July 2000

An eye on lasers
The wonders of vision-correcting surgery

By Edna Arguello

Until last year, wearing glasses or contact lenses was a mater of survival for Pilar Gomez. Without them, the 58-year-old was legally blind. "I had terrible fears. When I went swimming, I thought I wouldn't be able to get out of the water if something happened," she says. "I remember thinking how free I would be if I didn't have to wear them."

Corneal specialist and laser vision correction surgeon Mark Speaker, M.D, PhD, freed Gomez from her glasses and her fears. The New York based doctor used an excimer laser-invented two decades ago to etch microchips-to reshape her cornea so that it could do its job: let enough light into the eye's lens for the retina to focus on objects. The procedure he performed is a type of laser correction surgery called laser in situ keratomileusis, or LASIK. It can be used to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and even astigmatism.

IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU? Vision is impaired when the cornea and lens of the eye don't match in size, making it difficult for the retina to focus. "If the rest of your eyes are in good health, your ability to see can be restored if your cornea is reshaped," Dr. Speaker says. Before you can be considered a candidate, however, an expert must assess and measure your vision to determine how much cornea to trim. If your corneas are fragile or your eyes are affected by a disease such as cataracts, LASIK surgery is not for you. You must be an adult (at least 18) whose vision has been stable a minimum of two years. Expect to pay about $5,000 to have both eyes done by an experienced doctor using state-of-the-art equipment. The procedure, which is performed on only one eye at a time, is usually not covered by insurance.

HOW IT WORKS: The day of the surgery, your eyes and eyelashes will be cleaned. Then the specialist will put antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and anesthetic drops in the eye that is being operated on. Having made sure the eye is numb, the doctor will make an incision in the cornea with a metal instrument to create a flap folded out of the cornea's top layer. Pulses of computer-controlled laser light will then be directed into the cornea. Once the laser has done its job (the procedure takes about 10 minutes), the surgeon will put back the corneal flap and brush it to secure it in place.

WHAT TO EXPECT AFTERWARD: Patients go home wearing a clear eye patch or protective eyewear, which must stay in place for at least two days to protect the eye from debris. And although there is no pain, Nubia Soto, who had the surgery last year, says that she did experience pressure. "But it was very light, nothing memorable," she says.

As with any kind of surgery, there are risks, but studies show that problems occur in fewer than 1 percent of all cases. Infection is possible if you do not follow the prescribed eyedrop regimen after surgery. Patients with especially poor vision may find that they take longer to heal, since their corneas will need more reshaping.

Both Gomez and Soto, nevertheless, call the procedure miraculous. "As soon as the operation was finished, I was able to see right in front of me," Soto remembers. "I said to myself, Oh, my God, I can see!"

For more information: Call 877-LASIKNY or visit lasikinstitute.org

El especialista en cornea y cirujano laser Mark Speaker libero a pacientes, con problamas de vision, de sus anteojos y lentes de contacto. Basado en Nueva York, el doctor Speaker utiliza el laser especial para recortar la cornea y abrir el paso de luz al lente del ojo, permitiendo asi que la retina haga foco en los objetos. Este procedimiento se denomina como in situ keratomileusius o LASIK y es utilizado para corregir miopia, hipermetropia y astigmatismo.

La vision disminuye cuando la cornea y el lente del ojo no tienen el mismo tanano. "Si el resto de los onjos esta bien, tu habilidad para ver puede recuperarse reconfigurando la cornea" dice el doctor Speaker. Pero si tu cornea es fragil, tienes cataratas o eres menor de 18 anos, la cirugia LASIK no es para ti. El costo promedio es de $5000.00 or ambos ojos.

El dia de la cirugia te limpiaran los ojos, le pondran antibiotico, antiinflamatorio y anestesia. El doctor hara una incision en la cornea, abriendo la capa externa. El laser sera dirigido a traves de una computadora hacia la cornea durante aproximadamente 10 minutos y luego el cirujano devolera la capa cornica a su lugar.

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