If Becky McCrimmon didn’t know where her glasses were in the morning, she would have a hard time finding them. “That’s how nearsighted I was,” she says. But when she saw the Verisyse Phakic Intraocular lens implant featured on “The Today Show,” 20 years of struggling with contact lens, glasses and being rejected for Lasik surgery came to an end.
McCrimmon is one of many who have received the Verisyse lens which is implanted in front of the iris of the eye, providing vision correction to adults more than 21 years of age who fall outside the traditional Lasik criteria. Now, she can swim, drive, watch TV from her bed and wake up and read her alarm clock without glasses or contacts. “It’s totally changed my life and I feel like I’m free,” McCrimmon says.
Before the surgery, McCrimmon wore contacts until her eyes became too irritated to continue. “I tried different types and brands and it still didn’t help,” she says. And in her work as a medical assistant for Kennecott Utah Copper, McCrimmon continued to wear glasses daily. When she considered Lasik surgery, dry eyes and a form of lupus that affects the cornea disqualified her as a candidate for the procedure.
Christa Powell also couldn’t qualify for Lasik surgery. With a visual acuity of 20/400 or -.8, she was considered too myopic to meet the surgery criteria. Her corneas were also too thin. Those factors are the two most common reasons that potential vision correction surgery candidates are declined, says Aaron Schubach, vice president of Standard Optical and Opticare of Utah. Powell is among the 70 percent of Verisyse implant recipients who previously wore contact lenses.
“There are 8.5 million people in America with moderate to high myopia who previously had virtually no viable options for surgical vision correction,” says Schubach. “Today, 150,000 Verisyse lenses have been implanted worldwide.”
Schubach explains that there is rarely any pain during the one-day, outpatient Verisyse implant procedure. The 30-minute process involves a surgeon administering a numbing shot before using a diamond blade knife to make a two to three millimeter incision that heals without sutures. The Verisyse lens is then implanted in front of the iris of the eye. “The lens is special ordered with the patient’s exact prescription,” says Schubach. “It’s possible to have both eyes done on the same day.” The numbing shot wears off after three hours, and the patient returns for a post-operative visit 24 hours after surgery. “After the implant, the patient should not need contacts or glasses for the rest of his life,” he says, adding that the procedure requires a healthy eye without cataracts.
In FDA clinical research of patients who experienced Lasik surgery in one eye and the Versyse implant in the other eye, 72 percent preferred the implant because of better quality of vision, says Schubach. He adds that the procedure’s popularity is increasing nationally. One Verisyse patient, Sauda Pleasant, was unable to drive or read and could only see her husband and son as outlines and shadows. Since getting the implants, her vision is 20/20 in her healthy eye and her amblyopic eye has improved from 20/200 to 20/70. Immediately after the procedure, she was able to identify the color of her husband’s eyes for the first time.
The procedure is also becoming more popular in Utah. “At Standard Optical, we went from doing one implant a year to 20 a month,” says Schubach. However, he says that at $3,500 per eye, the Verisyse implant is more expensive than a $1,250 Lasik vision correction surgery. It is an elective procedure that is not covered by insurance, “although some insurances are starting to offer discounts,” he says.
Another benefit of the implant is that it’s reversible. “If the patient doesn’t like it, we can take the implant out,” says Schubach. On the other hand, if corneal tissue is removed in Lasik surgery, that tissue is gone. “With the Verisyse implant, we are not rearranging the optics of the eyes. It is possible to go back to a normal, healthy cornea.”
Powell’s vision that was once 20/400 is now 20/15–better than the 20/20 vision that is considered normal visual acuity. She says she sees clearly in all everyday activities such as reading and driving. “The implant really works and has made my life a lot easier,” says Powell.