December 26, 1995
Web posted at: 3:15 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Jeff Levine
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Jennifer Estes, who has had to wear glasses since the third grade, has never been happy with them. "I just feel it's hard to be as attractive as you can be with glasses," she said. Now she is taking the first step toward putting them aside forever. (672K Quicktime movie)
Estes is undergoing a laser procedure new to the United States called photorefractive keratectomy, or PRK, to treat mild to moderate nearsightedness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the procedure in October.
"It is really ideal for those patients who want to be able to function without glasses or contacts," said Dr. Rajesh Rajpal of George Washington Hospital. "A good example of that is someone who wants to get into the armed forces."
PRK uses a computer-guided excimer laser to strip away a layer of cells on the cornea with an energy burst that lasts only a few seconds. The newly reshaped surface should focus light correctly and restore near perfect vision. Dr. Rajpal estimates that 95 percent of patients see well enough to pass driving tests. (119K AIFF sound or 119K WAV sound)
The FDA notes that about 60 percent of test patients developed mildly hazy vision after surgery, although the problem generally disappeared within six months.
Around 5 percent of those treated had a little worse eyesight after PRK.
About a month after getting her right eye zapped, Jennifer Estes is delighted with the preliminary results. "How do you put a cost on something like that," she said. "I can see! I think it's a miracle."
The price of PRK ranges from $1,500 to $2,000 per eye. That's competitive with the slightly cheaper blade surgery called radial keratotomy.
Eye surgeon Jeffrey Robin has had the laser treatment in one eye and physical incisions in the other.
"Whether it's radial keratotomy or now excimer PRK, the incidence of vision-threatening complications, blinding complications, if you will, is extraordinary low," he said.
But some critics say undergoing PRK is short-sighted and could hasten the reading problems that often accompany aging.
"If you're presently nearsighted and you enjoy reading without your glasses, you may be trading in distance glasses for reading glasses," said optometrist Dr. Edward Schwartzberg.
About 20 excimer lasers originally were set up in the United States for test purposes, but about 150 now are planned for sites around the country.
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