Eyeing The Risks

Actor Dustin Hoffman, left, and British actress Emma Thompson joke together before a press conference to promote their latest movie. "Stranger Than Fiction", in Paris, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006.
Despite glowing ads and growing popularity, laser eye surgery is not risk-free. Correspondent John Blackstone continues his "Eye on America" report on the risks of laser eye surgery, with facts, figures, and some precautions to take before letting anyone touch your eyes.
Dr. William Ellis boasts of being one of the most experienced eye surgeons using the Lasik method sometimes called "flap and zap."

He cuts a tiny flap on the cornea, then in seconds a few bursts of laser reshape the eye.

Tracking Results
This Web site posts national data tracking this surgery.
Ellis has done it successfully thousands of times but not every patient is happy.

"Now I know that this laser is really what I call point and pray," says Jack Zackarian, who is suing after Dr. Ellis operated on one of his eyes.

"I can no longer be corrected with glasses so that my 20/20 has totally gone," Zackarian says.

Ellis claims the operation was successful but that Zackarian had unreasonable expectations.

While the overwhelming number of Lasik patients have improved eyesight, statistics show only half will end up with 20/20 vision.

"Nobody can predict a result in medicine," says Dr. William Ellis. "You know, it's buyer beware with all these procedures," he says.

In the Spotlight
Visit Surgical Eyes Web site, a patient support site, run by Ron Link, dealing with complications that can result from laser eye surgery.
Only 2 percent to 3 percent of patients develop serious complications. But with more than a million Americans expected to have Lasik surgery this year, that coulmean 20,000 to 30,000 people will end up with their vision damaged.

"There is a lot to lose if it doesn't work out. And that's a fact that's just lost in the wash of hype," says Ron Link, who runs Surgical Eyes, a support group and Web site for patients with problems.

He's developed pictures to demonstrate what some patients see after surgery.

"Look at the quality of vision there—absolutely horrible," he says.

"Street lights, oncoming car headlights—it can be a real horror show," Link adds.

Here are some tips from doctors and patients for the best results:

1. Make sure the surgeon personally examines your eyes before surgery.

That did not happen for Sherie Wong.

"I never met the surgeon until I walked into the operating room," she says. She needed another operation by another surgeon. "I had double vision in my right eye and blurred vision in my left eye."

Comparison Shopping
Dr. Edmiston has just launched a new site listing surgeons in Sacramento, St. Louis and Houston and comparing prices and experience.
2. Some surgeons pay optometrists "co-management fees" for providing care after surgery. But critics say the fees are no more than improper payments for patient referral.

"Co-management is a very poorly disguised form of kickback," charges Dr. Dave Edmiston, an eye surgeon.

3. Finally, know the odds, and don't throw away your glasses.

"The chances are you may need glasses for something afterward, whether it's for reading or driving at night or whatever," says Dr. Edmiston.

While for many Lasik is a miracle surgery, a small but growing group warns that no one should lose sight of the risk.