Blink and you might miss it.
That's how quickly it takes to watch Lasik refractive eye surgery performed by Dr. Jerome Poland at the Crosby Eye Clinic.
In less than 10 minutes, the painless procedure can cure poor vision, allowing you to dump those glasses or contacts forever.
The cost of the procedure has decreased dramatically in recent months, allowing Brainerd lakes area residents, eager for better eyesight, to flock in droves to their nearest clinic to get "lasered."
Dr. Jerome Poland (right) and his surgical team performed Lasik eye surgery Tuesday on Kelly Faughnan of Knife River. Faughnan's eye could be seen on the television monitor to the left as Poland performed the procedure.
Dr. David Sabir and Dr. John Moran at Northern Eye Center in Brainerd perform the Lasik surgery once a month in a traveling semi-truck that has a complete surgical unit inside. They charge $949 per eye. Poland performs the surgery every Tuesday at his Crosby office, charging $999 per eye. Other people are making the six-hour drive to Winnipeg to pay only $999 for the entire procedure.
Poland performs 20-50 Lasik surgeries each Tuesday. Lasik patients now make up 50 percent of his clientele and the popular voluntary operation could take over his practice on a full-time basis if he let it. Patients have found Poland from his Internet site and have traveled from as far away as California and Texas to have the surgery in his Crosby office because of his extensive experience with the procedure.
Poland has been performing refractive eye surgery for 19 years and estimated that he's performed 5,000-6,000 surgeries. He traveled to the Soviet Union to learn how to perform the now outdated surgical procedure where a surgeon cuts out the cornea with a diamond-edged knife.
In 1991, the new Lasik procedure was introduced, and Poland traveled to New Orleans to train on the new machine. He has offered Lasik surgeries in his office since 1994. His office is a training center for physicians to learn how to perform Lasik surgeries. He is also getting a new partner, Dr. Ina Luca, a California physician trained in Lasik and cataract procedures, who will begin this week.
A month ago, Poland purchased a Nidek, a third generation Lasik machine that is faster and more accurate than others used in the state. The computer analyzes a patient's eye and personalizes the procedure, allowing for fewer corrections. Poland said his "enhancement" rate -- the rate at which patients need to return for a Lasik adjustment -- is 8/10ths of one percent. Experts estimate that 10-15 percent of Lasik patients must undergo a second Lasik procedure to get their correction right.
"To me, an enhancement is a failure," said Poland.
On Tuesday, the waiting room at the Crosby Eye Clinic was full of people waiting in line to have Lasik eye surgery. One by one, patients are led into a back waiting room where they're prepped for surgery. A liquid anesthetic is dropped into the patient's eye, numbing it for surgery.
Patients are brought into the back surgical unit and instructed to lie down on the surgical table. A technician passes them a foam football to have something to hold on to during the quick procedure. The surgery is watched by technicians on a large television monitor. A suction ring holds the eye steady while the platform for the microkeratome, a cutting instrument, is put in place. Patients afterwards said they felt pressure from the suction ring, but not pain. This also dims a patient's vision.
The microkeratome then glides across the surface of the eye, cutting through the outer layers of the cornea like a tiny cheese slicer. The instrument stops automatically, leaving an uncut section to act as a hinge. Poland cuts and unhinges both corneas, then carefully lifts the still attached corneal flap out of the way, exposing the underlying layers that must be excised by the laser. Guided by a computer program, the laser reshapes the cornea using an electronic pulse that sounds like tiny bugs being zapped in an electric bug zapper. That noise, is what unnerves some people.
The corneal flap is then carefully brushed back over and reattached and moistened. Poland cautiously brushes the corneal with a moistened sponge applicator to make sure there are no irregularities. Then the surgery is over.
Most patients are surprised at how quickly the surgery takes. They're moved to an examination room where clear eye shields are placed over their eyes and given instructions on how to take care of their healing eyes. A prescription for pain medication is offered for when the numbing drops wear off. They must have their eyes examined the next day, a month later and three months later to make sure everything went well.
"The best thing is when they come in the next day, smiling, and they see so well," said Poland. "It's a great thing to make them see."
Kelly Faughnan, 34, Knife River, saw the ad for Poland's $999-per-eye special in the Duluth News Tribune and decided to travel to Crosby. She had Lasik surgery Tuesday. Before the surgery, her eyesight was 20/400. Within 45 seconds after the Lasik procedure, her eyesight was 20/60. Poland said within a couple hours Faughnan should be able to see well enough to legally drive after the excess fluid drained from her eyes.
"Wow," said Faughnan, as she looked out the window of the clinic. "I can see the trees and the leaves. I can read that lettering on that truck."
"That's what they all say, 'Wow,'" said Poland, with a chuckle.
"It really doesn't hurt at all," said Faughnan, after surgery. "It just makes you feel like you've worn your contacts for a little bit too long where your eyes are a little sore."
Jody Goehring, Brainerd, also had Lasik surgery Tuesday. Her vision, she said, was still blurry after the surgery because of the excess fluid in her eyes.
"I was a little nervous," said Goehring. "But it went very fast."
Amy McKay, an opthalmic assistant in Poland's office, had Lasik surgery by Poland June 18. The next day, she was able to see well enough to return to work. She is one of five of Poland's employees who have gone to him for the surgery. She said it is helpful that she has had the procedure herself because she is now better able to answer patients' questions.
Jeff Olson, Brainerd, traveled to Winnipeg in December to a popular Canadian Lasik eye clinic. When he checked into getting his eyes lasered here a year ago, the procedure cost $4,200 compared to $999 in Canada.
"I literally had horrible vision," said Olson, who gave up swimming as an adult because of his poor vision.
Olson got glasses when he was 12 and wore contacts for 20 years until his glass contacts burned his eyes. He had to return to wearing glasses, which prevented him from participating in some sports. Olson stayed with friends in Winnipeg so his lodging and travel costs for the surgery were low. In the past year, he's paid about $200 for eye checkups with his local doctor.
When talking about how Lasik surgery has changed his life, Olson is absolutely gleeful.
"I'm more active. I swim more and when I'm snowmobiling I don't have to wear glasses. I don't have to wear glasses that fog up when I walk in from the cold," said Olson. "I haven't heard a bad story yet (about Lasik surgery in Canada)."
With costs of the surgery going down in the U.S., Olson said he wouldn't necessarily encourage anyone to go to Canada for the Lasik procedure. There are risks associated with traveling to a foreign country to have surgery, he said.
Dr. Jackie McCall of Midwest Family Eye Center in Baxter said she will no longer perform the post-surgery exams with patients who traveled to Canada for Lasik surgery. She's afraid of the legal ramifications of taking over the care of patients where she's not familiar with the surgeons or the equipment they're using. She had seen several Canadian Lasik patients in the past.
"I have not seen any problems out of Canada but I don't want to see any either," said McCall, who had Lasik eye surgery herself in St. Paul over a year ago. Her vision is now 20/15.
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