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LASIK Surgery: Hidden Risks and Regrets

Jul 18, 2001 |

The advertising and infomercials suggest LASIK surgery is painless and foolproof. The surgeon cuts a tiny flap on the surface of the eye and a few blasts from a laser burn away part of the cornea in hopes of giving patients perfect vision.

When we first reported on LASIK surgery last year we met Sherie Wong, who shared a horrifying memory. The surgeon started cutting before her anesthetic had taken effect.

"So you felt this blade begin to cut your cornea?" Blackstone asks. Wong says, "Oh, it was awful. It was so swift, you could feel it was a razor blade just slicing over your eyeball. Just slicing it."

Then after the surgery Wong had other problems including eyes that became painfully dry.

"My eyes were as dry as the Sahara desert," says Wong.

Wong needed additional surgery on her tear ducts to keep her eyes moist.

"People think I'm constantly crying," she says.

Medical research just published this month suggests that many LASIK patients are at risk for developing severely dry eyes. The research suggests that the cutting and burning in LASIK surgery disturbs delicate nerves on the surface of the eye, upsetting the intricate mechanism of tear production.

"You're taking away one-third of the structural integrity of the eye," says Aaron Levine. Levine isn't an eye surgeon. He's a malpractice attorney. Though the vast majority of LASIK patients are happy, Levine is seeing a growing number with problems.

"The more surgery that you do that's unneeded that's done under sloppy conditions--the more people are going to knock on lawyers' doors," says Levine.

The problem, Levine says, is that LASIK surgery is driven by marketing and not by medical necessity.

"Well, you never heard an advertisement on television for gall bladder surgery or a hysterectomy I don't think," says Levine.

When we first investigated the marketing of LASIK surgery last year, we watched with others from a San Francisco sidewalk as a surgeon operated in a storefront window.

It was one way for a fast-growing national chain called LASIK Vision to get attention, although LASIK Vision didn't like our attention and chased away our cameras.

A year later, the storefront clinic is closed and empty. LASIK Vision has gone bankrupt--largely a victim of its own price-cutting.

And a growing number of LASIK patients regret having surgery.

"I'm never touching these eyes ever again," says Wong.

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