Burkhard Wagner’s vision was razor-sharp – but only up to a distance of 20 centimeters. Outside of this range, his world was a blur. A longtime expert on one of the world’s most advanced lasers used by surgeons to correct defective vision, Wagner discusses his decision to trust his own eyes to this technology.
A world which is only clearly visible and in focus no more than 15 or maybe 20 centimeters away poses many daily challenges, whether driving, playing sports or reading. Without glasses or contact lenses, these activities are not enjoyable and can even be dangerous.
Wagner had first-hand experience with these situations: “I was extremely short-sighted for most of my life and also suffered from astigmatism. For years my eyes were framed by a pair of thick, heavy glasses. My prescription was -8.25 diopters for my left eye, and -6.5 for my right. At a certain point, I was fed up – I had had enough of limited vision, fogged-up glasses and frames that repeatedly slid down my nose.”
So Wagner started wearing contact lenses – for up to 14 hours a day. Up and until, due to damage to his cornea, his eye doctor instructed him to stop. As contact lenses were no longer an option for Wagner, he dug out his old pair of glasses which he disliked so much wearing while his cornea healed. “Once I put them on, I knew for sure: I definitely didn’t want to wear glasses anymore on a regular basis.”
State-of-the-art technology for optimal vision: refractive laser eye surgery
In addition to glasses and contact lenses, there’s another way to achieve good vision: refractive laser vision correction. As a Product Manager at Carl Zeiss Meditec AG – the company that developed the most cutting-edge laser in this field – Burkhard Wagner was certainly no stranger to modern corrective techniques in corneal refractive surgery. “With SMILE, the minimally-invasive eye surgery procedure for refractive correction, the surgeon, using the laser, creates and carefully removes a lens-shaped piece of tissue from the interior of the cornea,” explains Wagner. With this technique, the corneal incision is 80% smaller than with LASIK, the most commonly used method. Thanks to the small incision, there is little disruption to the biomechanics of the cornea, speeding up the healing process.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how safe a procedure is according to trial results and field reports, or how much you yourself know about the process. It’s basically a gut decision,” says Wagner. “I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly thrilled about undergoing surgery, but I got up the courage, went to the preliminary consultation where they performed the requisite measurements on my eyes, and ultimately went through with the surgery.”
“At a certain point, I was fed up – I had had enough of limited vision, fogged-up glasses and frames that repeatedly slid down my nose.”
An expert undergoes his own laser surgery
Because of his job, Wagner already knew exactly what would happen to his eyes during each step of the surgery. “For example, I was aware of how, during the surgery, the small lens-shaped disk was formed with the laser in preparation for the surgeon extracting the lenticule. At no point during the surgery did I feel any pain, just a slight difference in temperature when I was given the anesthetic eye drops.”
The actual procedure lasts about five minutes for each eye, and the patient is discharged a short time later. Wagner recalls: “During the procedure, I lost track of time – the minutes seemed to pass more slowly in the waiting room than in the operating room.”
On the road again
Wagner reports that the healing process went just as smoothly as the surgery: “I had slight corneal swelling on the day of the surgery, which caused blurry vision. So I headed to my room, closed the curtains and rested. The next day I could feel that my eyes had already recovered – my vision was sharp. After a post-op examination, I headed home – drove home, actually – without glasses or contact lenses for the very first time in my life.”
Minimally invasive surgery for correcting vision
SMILE, Small Incision Lenticule Extraction, uses a femtosecond laser system with high precision and speed to reshape the cornea. The laser creates a small lens shaped pieces of corneal tissue known as lenticule, inside the cornea. It takes an average of 23 seconds. The surgeon then removes the lenticule through a small incision at the front part of the eye. This reshapes the cornea and corrects the refractive error.
SMILE is the most recently developed method of laser eye surgery. This advanced procedure allows the minimally invasive correction of some vision defects. By September 2017, 1 million eyes have already been treated with small incision lenticule extraction, better known as SMILE.
SMILE may be an option for many people with a variety of vision impairments – from mild refractive errors to severe nearsightedness.