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Proceed with Caution

'What Have I Done to My Eyes?'

Tuesday, October 12, 1999; Page Z18

Before he had surgery last year, Mitch Ferro thought he knew everything he needed to about Lasik. His older brother, a physician, had the procedure in Baltimore and raved about how easy it was and how well he could see. "I figured surgery was a no-brainer," Ferro recalled.

He figured wrong.

Ferro now considers having laser eye surgery to be one of the worst mistakes he ever made. "Believe me, I've never felt regret like this. I'd give anything to have my old corneas back," he said.

As a consequence of surgery, the 32-year-old product manager for a Northern Virginia Internet company suffers from a host of visual problems, some of them unfixable. He has slight double vision in his left eye. He is no longer nearsighted: because he was overcorrected, he is farsighted and now wears glasses at night. In dim light or at night Ferro sees such severe halos and star bursts around lights that in order to see well enough to drive, he must use powerful, pupil-constricting eye drops that can lead to a detached retina.

Ferro didn't expect any of this 10 months ago when he made an appointment with a busy laser practice in Northern Virginia to which he was referred by his brother's ophthalmologist. He said the ophthalmologist he consulted told him he was an "excellent candidate" and could have surgery two days later.

As part of his preoperative evaluation, Ferro watched a video that discussed some of the potential complications of Lasik. "The technician told me, 'We've done thousands of eyes and we've never had a problem.' I read the consent form and it listed all these [complications], but I didn't think much about it. These days if you're skiing, you have to sign a waiver," he noted.

But Ferro, who was moderately astigmatic and severely nearsighted, said he was never told that glare, halos and star bursts were more likely because of his extremely large pupils. Nor was he told that these side effects also are more common among people who have high levels of astigmatism or myopia, as he did.

Ferro also experienced a potentially serious surgical complication--debris in the form of cells under the flap--that was not discovered until three days after surgery.

Most doctors insist on seeing patients within 24 hours of surgery so that problems can be detected and fixed as soon as possible. Although Ferro had surgery on a Friday, his first appointment was not scheduled until the following Monday. He said that when he called on Sunday complaining of severely blurred vision, he was told not to worry and to wait until Monday.

That's when the surgeon discovered the debris and scraped it out. But when the flap was replaced, it wrinkled. A wrinkled flap can cause significant and uncorrectable visual problems.

Since then Ferro has consulted with several ophthalmologists about whether his eyes can be fixed. Last month he flew to Chicago to consult a specialist, who told him that an experimental treatment not yet approved by the FDA might help. For now, Ferro must wait.

"In retrospect I think that if I'd gone to a more careful surgeon, I would have been told not to have surgery," said Ferro, who requested that the doctor not be named. "I think a lot of doctors are not properly screening patients. When I realized what I had done, I lost 10 pounds and went through months of anxiety and depression. I kept thinking, 'What have I done to my eyes?' "

© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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