Laser Op Let Me Throw Away My Jam Jar Glasses

Over 100,000 patients a year in Britain have their vision corrected with the help of laser surgery. A revolutionary technique in eye surgery is allowing patients with prescriptions that were previously thought too difficult to treat to have pin-sharp vision, says Nick Harding.

Yvonne Cockerton was 13 when she started to wear thick glasses. Without her chunky minus 8.5 prescription spectacles, the investment accountant from Ware, Hertfordshire, could not recognise people she knew.

“Even with ultra-thin lenses, the glasses were thick. Without them, I would have been wearing jam jars,” she says. “I was spending almost £400 on each pair.

“It did affect my confidence. I was always aware of them at places like the school disco. I held back during sport and physical activity for fear they would get broken. Even at theme parks, I couldn’t go on certain rides because I had to take my glasses off and without them I was as blind as a bat.”

Yvonne, 32, had looked into having Laser Eye Treatment but she was told her prescription was slightly too high. Previously, laser surgery has only worked effectively on prescriptions between plus four and minus eight.

But when Yvonne’s fiancé Michael booked their wedding, she was desperate to walk down the aisle without glasses or contact lenses and she started looking again.

“We were going on a four-week honeymoon and we planned to swim with dolphins in New Zealand and climb Sydney Harbour Bridge,” says Yvonne.

“All I could think of was how problematic it would be wearing glasses or taking contact lenses with me. I’d always be worrying about losing my glasses or a lens.”

In desperation, she turned to the internet, where she found Dr Dan Reinstein, an ophthalmic surgeon and medical director of the London Vision Clinic. After years of correcting botched Laser Eye Surgery, he had developed a method of using a laser that can correct the vision of patients with prescriptions ranging from between plus seven and minus 15.

“Previously, Laser Eye Surgery above a minus eight prescription risked giving people night vision problems,” he explains.

“I worked closely with a laser manufacturer to develop a way of reversing these problems. Once we cracked how to fix them, the next step was to develop a treatment that included the repair at the same time. I am now treating hundreds of people who were told they couldn’t be treated or that they could only be treated by inserting an artificial lens into their eye.”

Not everyone is suitable for the treatment but as it is improved, more patients can be seen. “I used to reject about 20 per cent of patients,” says Dr Reinstein. “Now it’s about five per cent.”

Laser Eye Surgery, first carried out in the UK around 1989, works by reshaping the cornea to end the need for glasses. With short sight, the laser flattens the centre of the cornea by removing more tissue from the centre than the edge, thus improving the focus. In long-sighted people, it removes some tissue from the periphery of the cornea.

More than 100,000 patients a year have their vision corrected with lasers.

Since its introduction, several different procedures have become available, including photo-refractive keratectomy (PRK), in which the laser is beamed directly on to the surface of the cornea to remove cells to change its shape.

Dr Reinstein performs a version of a technique called laser in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK) surgery. Quick and painless, it reshapes the curvature of the cornea so that it matches the length of the eye. The cornea is cut to make a thin flap.

This is then folded back and the laser is directed on to the middle layers of the cornea. The average procedure removes about the thickness of a human hair in about 30 seconds. The flap is replaced and after two to three minutes of “drying”, it adheres to the cornea. Both eyes can be treated on the same day.

“The surgery is extremely safe,” Dr Reinstein says. “I partly attribute my low complication rates to the Artemis Insight 100 scanner, which uses extremely high resolution VHF ultrasound. It means we can measure the internal layers of the cornea to within one-thousandth of a millimetre – in 3D.”

Dr Reinstein has performed more than 8,000 LASIK procedures. He claims that it gives people previously consigned to a life wearing thick lens specs the eyesight of a fighter pilot.

When she discovered that Dr Reinstein could treat her, Yvonne booked herself in. After surgery, the improvement was immediate. “As soon as I got up after the surgery, which didn’t hurt, I knew straight away it had worked,” she says. “Although my vision was blurred I could make out detail.”

Her sight became clear within a few days. Three months later, she got her dream and walked down the aisle without glasses. “It meant everything to me,” she says. “On honeymoon, I got to swim with dolphins. One came right up to my face and we looked each other in the eye. It was amazing.”

A year later, she made another visit to Dr Reinstein. He tweaked her eyes again and she now has 20/16 vision, which is better than average. “The two procedures and all the aftercare cost £6,500 but it was worth every penny,” she says. “There is nothing I can’t see now.”