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Laser Surgery Patients Elated -- 'No More Glasses!'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2003 – Army Capt. Steven Kyle Jones got his first pair of spectacles when he was 6.

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Army Dr. (Lt. Col.) Kraig S. Bower examines Army Sgt. 1st Class Carla Stewart's eyes during a follow-up visit after laser surgery. "It's outstanding," Stewart said after having LASIK. Photo by Rudi Williams.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"Now I'm free from having to wear glasses!" he exclaimed recently, more than 24 years later and a few days after LASIK surgery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Refractive Surgery Center here. "This is real freedom. It's amazing! I can get up in the morning and see! I can play sports -- basketball, flag football, soccer -- and not have to worry about my glasses being in the way or breaking."

He said the day after the surgery, he was 20/20 in the right eye and 20/25 in the left. "My eyesight was still blurry due to the pupils being dilated," said Jones, an Army air defense artilleryman working as a software test engineer in the Personnel Information Systems Directorate at Army Personnel Command in Alexandria, Va. "Five days later my distance vision was still a little blurred, but my distance vision cleared up more and more as the tissue in the cornea healed."

LASIK is the acronym for Laser-Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis, which means to use a laser to reshape the cornea -- the clear covering in the front of the eye -- without invading adjacent cell layers.

"To be honest, I was extremely nervous going into the LASIK procedure," admitted Jones, who was nearsighted with significant astigmatism in his left eye. "But the procedure was quick, about 15 minutes total in the operating room and, in my case, about 90 seconds of lasing time.

"The lasing time varies with respect to eyesight quality -- the worse the eyesight, the longer the lasing time. The procedure is not painful and the doctors and nurses talk you through the entire procedure."

Army Staff Sgt. Christopher J. McCray wanted LASIK so badly that he drove four 300-mile roundtrips from Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, to see his doctor at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in preparation for the procedure. The combat medic and medical specialist finally had the surgery on March 25, 2002, after being on the waiting list for more than a year.

"I feel as if a weight has been lifted from me," said McCray, who was nearsighted with 20/70 vision in his left eye and 20/80 in his right. After LASIK, he was 20/15 in both. "I like to get involved in sports and rough play football, basketball, baseball, swimming -- wearing glasses hindered a lot of that.

"I'm still a combat soldier, but my current specialty is an optometry technician, he said, noting the Army considers the surgery as a way to improve readiness. "LASIK has helped me to be on the move without the hassle of worrying about the weather fogging up my glasses, glasses falling off or the cost of repairs and new purchases of glasses. And it's easier to wear my gas mark without glasses."

McCray, who now works in the Walter Reed Refractive Surgery Center, said he was told after the surgery to go home and sleep for four to six hours.

"When I awoke, I was able to see clearly, although the bright light caused minor irritations," he said. "The results to me prove to be slightly better than contacts, but much, much better than glasses."

One of Army Sgt. 1st Class Carla Stewart's greatest desires in life was to have clear vision without glasses or contacts. That dream came true on Sept. 30, 2002, when Army Dr. (Lt. Col.) Kraig S. Bower performed LASIK surgery on her eyes at Walter Reed.

"The surgery was completed around 3 p.m. and I took a nap from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.," said Stewart, who works in administration for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. "So about four hours after surgery I was able to watch TV and see clearly that same night. And I didn't have any complications."

She said LASIK has helped her more with her physical workouts schedule than her job. "I can run and actually see where I'm going," Stewart noted.

With her vision improved to 20/15, she said, "It feels really good. It took a while to get used to not wearing glasses -- I always felt like I was forgetting something."

"I love it! It's great!" exclaimed Army Sgt. Sharonda Y. Nunn, an eye technician at Walter Reed, who has also trained and worked as a paramedic and emergency medical technician. "It's so much easier with no contacts or glasses. I can see without any complications. I had a great surgery with no halos, which some people may complain of.

"I've gone from not seeing the vision chart to seeing it completely to 20/15," said Nunn, who added that it's easier to put on her protective mask during chemical and biological warfare training. "Without glasses or contacts, I couldn't even see the big E on the eye chart. So I was happy to see anything. Now I have 20/15 in both eyes."

Because she has thin corneas, Nunn had PRK, or photorefractive keratectomy surgery, instead of LASIK. The procedure can be a bit uncomfortable because the laser used shapes the outside surface of the cornea.

"The pain only lasted about three days, but it wasn't that bad for something so great, so I didn't mind," Nunn noted. "Once I got off the table from the surgery, I could see the chart at 20/40, so I was so excited that the pain really didn't bother me."

Some patients report having post-operative effects such as ghosting, starbursts, halos, contrast sensitivity and decreased night vision.

Nearsighted people often have some degree of these effects naturally, but don't notice them because "they've grown up with them," said Army Dr. (Col.) William P. Madigan, consultant to the Army surgeon general for ophthalmology; chief of ophthalmology service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; and ophthalmology division chief at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md.

"They have grown up with them and have integrated them into 'normal' as the way they always have seen," he said. "Then they have the surgical procedure and, as is natural for human nature, they start really analyzing their post-op vision. The halos that were always there are now noticed. Some patients post-op have reduced contrast sensitivity, but this difference almost always disappears in two months."

"I had my surgery five months ago and the only problem I've experienced was halos," Stewart said. "The problem lasted for about 20 minutes in early December; however, it only occurred a day after I shoveled tons of snow from my driveway. So I think I may have overexerted myself and it caused the halos. I haven't had them since then, and my vision is still better than before the surgery."

Jones had some problems with his distance vision and starbursts during the first month after surgery, but his distance vision has become clearer and the starburst effect has nearly disappeared as his eyes have healed.

"It has been seven weeks now," he said. "The key has been to keep using the wetting drops. The drops keep the tissue healthy and enable the healing process."


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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLaser technician Denise Sedig (from left), Army Dr. (Maj.) Richard D. Stutzman and laser technician Joann Hansley prepare Army Capt. Steven Kyle Jones for LASIK eye surgery. "The personnel at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Refractive Surgery Center are excellent," the patient said later. Photo by Rudi Williams.   
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