New laser procedure offered locally for cataract surgery patients

Oct. 04, 2013 @ 05:09 PM

Sharon Woodard, a secretary with Durham Rescue Mission, was used to wearing trifocals to work on the computer. She couldn’t read road signs anymore, nor could she enjoy books.

But North Carolina Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat off North Roxboro Street gave her another option to fix her cataracts last month, when Woodard went under the laser, instead of the knife, to correct her vision.

The Durham-headquartered practice just started offering cataract surgeries with the LenSx system, which uses a laser instead of a blade to make incisions on the eye, in the middle of September. The technology, worth around $500,000, was first introduced in 2011 by Alcon, based in Forth Worth, Texas.

But Dr. Dwight Perry, an ophthalmologist with N.C. Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat, said his busy practice is the first in the Triangle to offer surgeries using the LenSx.

Cataract surgery is their most common procedure, Perry said, and with baby boomers reaching age 65, the more precise surgery will positively impact their way of life.

“I wanted to see so badly, and when (Perry) told me that I wouldn’t have to wear glasses after this procedure, and I’ve worn glasses since I was 15 years old and I’m now 72, and I said, ‘That sounds like a winner,’” Woodard said.

The equipment is based at North Carolina Specialty Hospital off Ben Franklin Boulevard, where N.C. Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat carries out its surgeries. Using the LenSx doesn’t generate revenue for the hospital but was picked for its precision, said Randi Shults, CEO of N.C. Specialty Hospital.

“The real advantage is not necessarily for the hospital, but the patients that we serve,” Shults said. “We may be able to garner more cases, but I think the real beneficiary of it is indeed the patient.”

The femtosecond laser, which operates at one quadrillionth of a second, performs a capsulotomy, or an incision into the capsule that contains the natural crystalline lens of the eye, to remove and replace the natural lens with an artificial one. The old lens is fragmented for easy removal.

Gwynn Swinson, a 60-year-old retired lawyer living in Raleigh, was told by Perry that she could be one of the first 100 patients at the practice to go through the laser-assisted surgery.

“I didn’t hesitate,” Swinson said. “In fact, I thanked him. I like being on the cutting edge. I had the confidence in his team.”

Swinson went from her right eye, which underwent conventional cataract surgery in August, to using the LenSx on her left eye. She was hooked to an IV that delivered anesthesia, then woke up and went home right after the procedure.

She said two weeks later that her left eye is healing faster and her vision is much crisper.

Before fixing her cataracts, she suffered from another eye condition – Uveitis, or inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye. She had trouble reading license plates. She couldn’t even read large-print books. She had family drive her around, especially at night.

The steroid drops they used cleared her condition, but also cause cataracts.

After the cataract procedure, Swinson can now read far-away signs on the highway. She’s reading mystery novels and autobiographies with clarity. And she’s driving.

“Driving is the very first thing that I feel has brought back the quality of life,” she said. “It gives me back my independence.”

Sinead Ingersoll, executive vice president of N.C. Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat, said several of their eye surgeons attended an American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting last year and learned about the laser equipment.

“They came back so excited about this technology,” Ingersoll said. “That’s really when we started very serious discussions with the hospital.”

Four of their eye surgeons recently completed their LenSx training, she said, and have commented on how accurate and easy the procedure has become.

“They’re like little kids at Christmastime,” she said. “… For us, this is probably one of the most exciting things that has happened to our practice in more than 20 years.”