Looking LASIK in the eye

By By Jaime Winston and By Jaime Winston

By Jaime Winston

When glasses and contacts don’t cut it, some U students opt for surgery.

Majid Moshirfar, director of the Moran Eye Center’s Refractive Surgery Program, said students at the U undergo LASIK surgery for many reasons. One student went under the knife because he wanted to participate in karate without glasses. Another student was in the military and underwent the operation to improve his vision so he could get into flight school.

The Moran Eye Center has not conducted studies about how many students undergo the surgery and are unable to legally release information on individuals who have had the surgery. However, Moshirfar estimates that about 33 percent of patients who get LASIK (Laser-Assisted in situ Keratomileusis) at the center’s campus location are U students.

“Most of the students we see are the ones who say, ‘I want to go skiing and my contact lenses are bothering me,'” Moshirfar said. “For younger people, it’s not the discomfort, but what they want to be able to do.”

Moshirfar performs surgery at the center’s sister location at 6360 S. 3000 East. Each month he teaches a seminar on the risks and benefits of LASIK and other surgeries to correct refractive errors in eyes. Seminars are held at both locations three times a month until June. The next seminar, which is at the campus’ sister location on April 3 at 6 p.m., will give students information about payment and the procedure itself.

Students who undergo the surgery at the center are required to be at least 21 years old.

Stacie Toy, a junior in mass communication who is 20 years old, wants to have LASIK done after she reaches the required age.

“I just want to be able to wake up in the morning and see without having to walk across the room and find my glasses or figure out where I put my contacts,” she said. “It would be nice to not have things blurry.”

Toy said she does not like wearing glasses and her contact lenses feel uncomfortable when she is up late studying.

“People who don’t have glasses or never had problems with their eyesight don’t understand what it’s like to not be able to see without help,” she said. “Anyone who has to deal with contacts or wearing glasses in order to see understands why I want it.”

Problems approached by the LASIK procedure include nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, which is when the eye is more football shaped and distorts vision.

The average age of LASIK patients is between 25 and 40. Sometimes older students or faculty lose their eyes’ focusing power because of presbyopia.

“When people have presbyopia we do monovision,” Moshirfar said. “We take one eye and we put it all the way for distance, and we take one eye and we put it only 80 percent for distance.” That way the patient can both read and drive a car without bifocals.

However, most young patients get LASIK surgery, which costs $1,900, he said.

To get LASIK at the Moran Eye Center, a patient needs to be checked for the right corneal thickness and pupil size. When students don’t meet the demands, they might undergo PRK, or Photorefractive Keratectomy, which is similar to LASIK except a little flap is not cut. The laser will only hit the surface of the cornea and it will take longer to heal.

“You don’t feel anything,” said Myrna Livingston, a refractive coordinator at the Moran Eye Center who underwent PRK surgery. She said there is a burning smell caused by the ultraviolet light that shines into the eye, breaking up binding molecules for easy surgery. She also recalls a typewriter type sound, which the laser often makes as it shines into the cornea.

To keep an eye from moving during the surgery, Moshirfar uses a suction device. He also uses custom software for individual pupils and corneas, which creates a map of the eye. Without it, the patient could end up with night vision difficulties, glare or halo problems. However, there is still a 1 to 8 percent chance these problems will occur, and might be side effects for the first three months.

Other risks such as keratoconus — bulging of the cornea to a cone shape — blindness and need for corneal transplant are all far less than 1 percent. Minor complications with the small flap that is cut in the eye are about 5 percent.

“We tell them what their chances are to have great vision and the chances of getting an infection, glare and halo,” Moshirfar said. “We go over all of this with the patient.”

Moshirfar also tells patients with severe eyesight problems that he might not be able to take away their glasses.

“The goal is to reduce dependency on glasses,” he said. “I may not be able to eliminate it, but I can reduce it.”

He also can’t prevent what happens to eyes after the surgery.

“I cannot give you perfect vision or supervision for your life because eyes have biological degradation,” Moshirfar said.

Students shouldn’t schedule the operation before a test or high stress work day. They might also need to be cautious to other factors, such as finances.

“Students are interesting because they have other demands on their money with tuition and whatnot,” Livingston said. “But, a lot of students have family help and financing.”

Toy said that she might ask her parents to help pay for the procedure, but is comfortable saving money until she has enough to pay on her own.

“I guess I’m so used to wearing contacts now that I’m not in a big hurry,” she said.

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