Contributed with permission by Meredith Perry
The eyes are the windows to the soul. And the relatively new LASIK procedure supposedly can make those windows crystal clear.
This quick and painless procedure produces perfect vision.
LASIK surgery has helped millions of people see clearly, yet for a small, but growing number of patients the procedure has not helped, but hurt. For Dominic Morgan the surgery seemed like a dream come true -- but turned out to be a nightmare.
"I had my surgery done April 23 and April 30, 1998".
Dominic's surgery did not go as planned, and now he suffers the consequences of that ten minute procedure every day of his life.
"I had problems from the get-go".
Dom's problems included halos, glare, blurry and fluctuating vision, and starbursts. But for thousands, basic LASIK surgery is simple and harmless.
Dr. Sarah Hay performs LASIK. "I’m going to put drops in your eyes and numb your eyes. The surgery does not hurt. I’ll put the speculum in so you don't have to worry about keeping your eyes wide open. I'll put that suction ring on to create the flap, then I'm going to ask you if you see that aiming light. Also when I put that suction ring on you do lose your vision for a little bit, and I'll remind you of that before I do it. The pressure you feel does not hurt like the pressure on your arm with a blood pressure test. I'll ask you if you see the aiming light, and it is very important that you tell me you see it, because that is where I need your cooperation. I’ll lock on the tracker and tell you how long it will take for the laser to treat your prescription. Now when you get up some of you will think a miracle just happened, but it is normal for your vision to be blurry. Well, I've cut your cornea, fired the laser, rinsed it, reattached it and lubricated it. It is not going to be clear right away. The next day everybody should be functional"
And it was for Dr. Hays' LASIK patient Jackie Small. The surgery was painless and successful. Can it be this easy? Don't throw away your glasses quite yet.
Dominic Morgan wanted to get LASIK surgery so he could do just that - throw away his heavy glasses.
"I had big thick glasses, and they kept sliding down in the summer time because the glasses were so heavy".
LASIK advertisements can be seen everywhere. And they all have one thing in common - promising the end of glasses. So the public is led to believe LASIK equals a life without glasses. That's not entirely true.
"Then you can have reading difficulty. So that will not change. That deteriorations due to aging is going to happen whether or not you get LASIK. That will still bring about reading deficiency, and you might have to get reading glasses. And a very small percentage will have distance deterioration" says Dr. Ming Wang.
Dr. Ming Wang of Nashville, Tennessee dedicates most of his time to LASIK patients with complications - patients similar to Dominic Morgan. Dom, as he likes to be called, had retinal problems since he was an infant due to his premature birth.
"They (doctors) told me I was a good candidate. I went to their retinal doctor and he said I was fine".
Dr. John Herman says "My statement to virtually everyone I’ve ever talked to about this - three out of four maybe nine out of ten people who had laser vision correction were not good candidates - meaning the ones with complications".
Dominic said the same of his doctor "In August I saw another doctor out of curiosity. The doctor told me I should not have been considered for surgery. Every cornea specialist I have talked to since them told me the same thing".
Dom wishes he would have consulted those doctors before his surgery. His piece of advice is to seek many other opinions before the laser hits your eyes.
Dr. John Herman of Pittsfield, Massachusetts says there are many tests that need to be done before considering LASIK. And most LASIK places overlook them.
"When they look at your eyes before laser surgery there is a lot of things they don't do. In my opinion it's an inadequate report that comes out of those places".
Dr. Ming Wang states - "First and foremost you need to make sure you are a good candidate. Second is the instrumentation. It is very challenging for a person to figure out the differences between all of the lasers. Ask other doctors".
And Dominic Morgan wished he had done just that. Because if he did he might not be where he is today.
(VISUAL SHOT OF QUESTIONNAIRE) - Dom found out his laser surgeon Anita Nevyas-Wallace had used a non-FDA approved laser. A laser her father Dr. Herbert Nevyas had invented. And later Dom discovered that there were eleven lawsuits because of that laser's use.
"Since they dismantled their laser two years ago they haven't had any lawsuits against them".
Drs. Herbert Nevyas and Anita Nevyas-Wallace of Philadelphia did not hide the fact they used a non-FDA approved laser.
Dom stated - "They give you a series of questions. Afterwards you answer true or false. 'The excimer laser used for my procedure has been studied and proven by the FDA'. I marked true. It was false".
Dr. Herbert Nevyas invented the laser and used it on patients for research purposes, including Dom. He hoped to have it approved by the FDA. And Dr. Nevyas did not use the laser only on Dominic, but also on Joe Wills' husband, Keith.
Joe Wills states "Dr. Nevyas called him to delay the enhancement surgery. At that point he told my husband he would have to wait for the FDA approval. When we got to trial we realized he was using his own invention".
Both Dominic and Keith sued the Nevyas' - and they both lost.
" Philadelphia courts ripped my case apart. I was not allowed to bring in anything pertaining to the FDA" Dom said.
Because Dominic could not bring the fact of the non-FDA approved laser into the trial he could only sue on negligence. And Dr. Nevyas said he had no way of knowing the surgery would fail.
Less than one percent of patients who have received LASIK have experienced serious, vision-threatening problems - like Dom's. The incidence of less serious complications such as halos and glare is between 3 and 5 percent.
Dom states "Nighttime was a joke. I had the glare, I had the ghosting, I had the starbursts. I couldn't focus on anything. I expressed my concerns to them and they just kept telling me as my eyes healed, I’ll lose all of that and I'll get better. They told me it would take up to three months the first time. Then three to six months. Six to twelve months, and then after a year they told me because of my problems I had, because of the history I had, it could be longer. And then they told me it could be permanent".
Joe Wills describes her husband's adverse effects from the surgery, and they are eerily the same as Dominic's.
"My husband is legally blind at night and has multiple vision. He has the glare, the halos, the foggy vision".
And like Dominic, there is no cure for Keith's vision.
"When my husband had his two year anniversary of his surgery, he was supposed to go in for another evaluation. They told him to go for a second opinion and they evaluated him and told him there was not enough cornea left to repair his eyes".
So what went wrong with these surgeries? Is the laser to blame? Or the doctor?
Joe Wills - "Dr. Nevyas told him to look at the red light. My husband told him he could not see the red light. And it got real quiet in the operating room and there were whispers amongst the doctor and his assistants. The doctor left the room and then came back in and asked again if he could see the red light. My husband said he couldn't. The doctor then told him to look as straight as he can and don't move your eye".
Dominic was once a mainframe computer operator making 50,000 dollars a year. He is now legally blind and living on disability Social Security.
"I was working, I was driving, I was doing everything anyone else would do. I don't do anything anymore - I can't even sit at a computer at length. There's no clarity to anything. I have total loss of night vision. I did read quite a bit, now I'll pick up a book, and I was used to going through it in two days. Now it takes me a couple of months. The book is up to my face like this".
These complications are never mentioned in advertisements.
Dr. Ming Wang States "I think there is too much advertising of only the good in LASIK surgery. The general public should be educated about risks and limitations. LASIK surgery should be looked at with a balanced viewpoint. First and foremost like all medical procedures it has risks and complications. And very often I have patients saying make me have 20/20 vision. And I say can you name a medical procedure that is perfect? Why should the laser vision correction be any different?"
And that is a great point. LASIK has been extensively advertised as being a miracle surgery - but there are risks involved. And as with any surgery some patients come out happy, while others deal with complications. Diana Howard, of Birmingham, Alabama, dealt with the complications. Her eyes were under corrected, and eventually she had to get the surgery done by another doctor, and pay for it a second time.
"I went to this place and I had my surgery done, and I complained because I noticed my eyes were not corrected, and I told them the problems I had and they never called me back. So I sent them a letter saying that I had problems and that I wanted my money back or the surgery to be corrected. I never heard anything from them again. A couple of months later I read in the paper where they had a bunch of people who sued because the place I went for the surgery apparently the calibration of the laser was incorrect. So a lot of people had problems. But I didn't know about the lawsuit until I read it in the paper. And by that time it was too late to do anything".
Diana might have thought it was too late for legal action, but Dr. Herbert Nevyas did not. He is now suing Dominic. That's right - he is suing Dom.
"They are suing me because of my website. The point of my website is to let other people know there are risks, to be very careful if you are not a candidate, such as myself. Don't be misled".
WWW.lasiksucks4u.com states Dom's feelings about LASIK and Dr. Nevyas very clearly. But Dom says his intention is not to discredit the Nevyas'.
"My intention is strictly to put the truth out there".
Dominic's problems all began with a non-FDA approved laser. Technology causes some of the botched surgery. But lack of training also creates LASIK complications. Currently the medical boards across the country are only requiring a weekend training course for LASIK surgeons.
Dr. Herman states "It turned out they had a training session for optometrists and a training session for surgeons. Well I couldn't make the session for optometrists so I knew the guy in charge and I called him up, and I went to the one for surgeons. Basically the training session was the same as the weekend before for the optometrists. And I could remember driving home saying to myself these cataract surgeons are going to go do laser surgery next week. So the bottom line is there are no stringent rules applied to the surgeons themselves".
And Dr. Ming Wang "I think we need to go back. Would you allow a surgeon to perform open-heart surgery if all he got was a weekend training?"
"It's a weekend course - and they don't do human eyes. They do cow eyes, and then they are ready to do human eyes? And if you spoke to most surgeons although they would be defensive because it is their system. If you got a couple of beers in them they would say it's nonsense" says Dr. Herman.
Laser surgeons cut the cornea with a microscopic, hand-held razor during laser surgery. This is the most dangerous part of the procedure and where the most risk is involved.
Dr. Ming Wang states "The cornea is the thickness of a couple of strands of hair, and a laser surgeon has to cut a flap in the cornea using a hand-held razor. They must do this without cutting through the cornea".
"My guess is there's more surgical errors than there are bioengineering errors" notes Dr. Herman.
Lawsuits, lasers, insufficient training, the FDA - LASIK surgery has never seemed so complicated. What happened to that quick and painless surgery we all know and love? It never existed.
"Every citizen should go by the fundamentals. Make sure you are a good candidate, make sure you have the best technology. Ask other doctors where you would go for your own eyes" cautions Dr. Ming Wang.
The eyes are the windows to the soul. And you never know what you have until you lose it.
Dom adds, "Socially I use to go out. I use to go to bars. I use to do a lot of traveling - going fishing, casino (laughs), now I don't like to do anything especially at night. You can't enjoy what you can't see".
Due to litigation from a patient previously interviewed this article has been edited to remove all reference of patient.