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If someone you love is considering Lasik
September 23, 2010

In this special Spark Plug, I'm digressing from the usual focus on values-based life and leadership skills to share a very personal message. Four years ago I had Lasik eye surgery. It was the worst mistake of my life. Since then I've been trying to help other people make sure they make that decision fully informed of the horrible risks involved. And I routinely receive heartbreaking emails from people who will for the rest of their lives suffer from having had their eyes mutilated by Lasik.

Yesterday the former FDA official who was most responsible for approving Lasik back in the 1990s came out and very definitively stated that it should not have been approved and that no one in their right mind should consider having it done today.

If someone you care about is considering Lasik, please forward this special edition of Spark Plug on to them and encourage them to do their own research, ask the tough questions, and think long and hard before they submit to this irreversible cosmetic surgery on their precious eyes.

Click here for my 8-page special report on questions you should ask and research you should do before going in for Lasik eye surgery.

Click here for my 8-minute video "Before You Let Them Cut on Your Eyes."

  • Know the Economics of Lasik
  • Before you let them cut on your eyes
  • You should not consider Lasik if:

  • Before you let them cut on your eyes

    "LASIK eye surgery complications are already a major public health problem. Hundreds of thousands of eyes are permanently injured each year."

    - Morris Waxler, Ph.D., a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official in charge of evaluating PRK and LASIK between 1996-2000

    Surgeons who make a living performing Lasik eye surgery routinely claim a 95-99 percent success rate, but these claims are not based upon scientific studies. Rather, they are from anecdotal "satisfaction" surveys that would not earn a passing grade in a freshman market research class, much less be accepted for publication in a legitimate medical journal.

    A much more accurate assessment of the likelihood of complications is probably reflected by reactions posted online to Dr. Waxler's statement yesterday that the FDA should never have approved Lasik in the first place, and that nobody should subject their precious eyes to the risk of permanent Lasik damage today.

    As of midnight last night, there were 32 posts on the ABC News website story. More than half of those were from people who had experienced one form or another of Lasik disaster, and at least two of the favorable postings were from Lasik surgeons. The probability of seeing this sort of distribution if the success rate really was 95+ percent is infinitesimal.

    Even if Lasik industry claims of a 95% "satisfaction" rate are taken at face value, it still means there is a one-in-twenty chance you will suffer permanent and irreparable eye damage. It's like going to an orthopedic surgeon who only cripples five percent of his patients.

    Last week I received an absolutely heartbreaking email from someone who had (too late) watched my You Tube video Before You Let Them Cut on Your Eyes.

    The author of that email is a PhD student in English literature who ended up with double vision, blurred vision, and chronic dry eye disease. Because reading and working at a computer are so central to his career goals, the damage done by Lasik was, he said, "a disaster."

    In my You Tube video, I opened by saying that I would not try to talk anyone out of having Lasik but only wanted to help make sure that they went into it fully informed of the dangers. But in the time since producing that video I've heard so many Lasik disaster stories that I've changed my mind.

    If the only method available to treat nearsightedness was Lasik eye surgery and someone invented glasses and contacts, that person would win the Nobel Prize.

    In the four years since I had Lasik, I have spent more money on eyeglasses than I did in the previous several decades, but my world is still slightly out of focus. I spend about a thousand dollars a year on eye drops, but my eyes still hurt all the time.

    As Dr. Waxler says, for hundreds of thousands of people, the dream of life without glasses has become a nightmare of chronic vision problems and constant eye pain.

    I hope I will never hear from you, or you will never hear from someone you care about, that entrusting your precious eyes to a Lasik surgery clinic was a disaster, and the worst mistake you've ever made. The potential benefit is simply not worth the terrible risk.

    You should not consider Lasik if:

    Your livelihood or an important avocation depend upon clear eyesight. While many people attain 20/20 vision (or close to it), many thousands end up with double vision, blurred vision, impaired visual acuity, nighttime vision reduction, and similar problems. One of the comments left on the ABC website was from a doctor whose career was ended (and who said his life was ruined) by Lasik-induced damage to his eyes.

    You have any preexisting problems with dry eyes, hay fever, or other form of chronic eye discomfort. Whatever that problem happens to be, you can be dead certain that Lasik will make it worse.

    You have a low tolerance for pain. Lasik-induced dry eye disease is not merely dry eyes: it is a chronically painful condition that is only partially and temporarily ameliorated by using eye drops. In my case, I put in eye drops more than 50 times a day and several times at night, and my eyes still hurt almost every minute of every day.

    You are under the age of 30. I consider myself very fortunate not to have had my eyes damaged by Lasik until I was in my mid-50s. I cannot imagine trying to start a career and a family while simultaneously trying to cope with the physical and emotional consequences of having suffered permanent and irreparable eye damage as a result of a discretionary cosmetic surgery. Beyond that, in the relatively near future, Lasik is likely to be replaced by something that is much safer - but anyone who has had their eyeballs carved by lasers will almost certainly not be eligible. For the young person, a few extra years with glasses or contacts will be worth the wait.

    You have not gotten multiple opinions, including from one or more optometrists who do not have a financial interest in Lasik.

    You have not done extensive research on potential problems, including reading stories posted by Lasik victims on the internet, and decided that you can live with those problems if they happen to you.

    You have not read your own medical record and questioned the Lasik surgeon about anything in that record that you do not understand (though my wife and I were told by the doctor that I was "a perfect candidate" for Lasik, I later discovered in my record that I had a condition that should have ruled me out) or that you disagree with (the doctor wrote in my record that he had discussed that contraindicating condition with me, which was simply not true).

    Know the Economics of Lasik

    Before you submit your eyes to Lasik surgery, you should clearly understand the economics of the Lasik business. And make no mistake, Lasik is first and foremost about business, not about medicine or health.

    The most important fact for you to understand is that Lasik is a classic situation of caveat emptor - let the buyer beware. No Lasik surgeon can honestly tell you what the risks of complication are, because they don't know. No serious scientific studies have been performed (and it frankly is not in the economic interest of the industry to do such studies if they can convince the public that the procedure is 99% safe based on anecdote and hearsay).

    You must understand that almost every Lasik surgeon has a built-in conflict of interest. They get paid when they perform surgery, they do not get paid when they tell people that they should not have surgery. In my case, what I thought was an honest diagnosis turned out to have been a fraudulent sales pitch.

    Similarly, if things go badly the surgeon has virtually no economic incentive to help you beyond the (typically two) follow-up visits prepaid as part of the package. They get paid for doing surgery, not for nickel-and-dime office visits. In my case, trying to get the Lasik clinic to help with the horrible double vision they caused was like trying to talk to a dead bug.

    Because of the growing supply of Lasik surgeons, the price of Lasik has fallen by more than half in recent years. This is very bad news for consumers, because it means that the typical Lasik surgeon must do twice as many surgeries just to break even.

    Lasik is being promoted by some of the most dangerously deceptive advertising since the days when RJ Reynolds used fake doctors to push Camel cigarettes, and the medical establishment has done virtually nothing to discipline dishonest or incompetent Lasik surgeons.

    If you experience a worst-case outcome, you will have very little recourse. Unless you have been blinded or are the victim of obvious malpractice, you're unlikely to win a lawsuit, largely because you will be unable to find an expert witness willing to break ranks with this lucrative fraternity.

    Click here to read the text of a lawsuit that was filed against a prominent Midwestern Lasik clinic.

    Learn from my Lasik misfortune:

    Video: Before You Let them Cut on Your Eyes

    Special report: Questions to ask before you get Lasik

    Yesterday's TV news story: Lasik now unsafe?

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