Local woman warns of LASIK eye surgery complications

Corrective lens helps her see again

By Tera Roberson - Special Projects Producer, Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - Maytal Josef said she's spent years imagining what 20/20 vision would be like.

“I'd been in glasses since I was 7, and contacts since I was 12. I had astigmatism,” she said.

She heard a radio advertisement for LASIK eye surgery at an affordable price of less than $500 an eye, so she made an appointment for a consultation at Joffe Medicenter in Bellaire.

“I had heard their name a bunch of times. I was told that I was a perfect candidate, not just a good candidate, a perfect candidate,” Josef said.

On the day of the procedure, Josef said everything was fine with her right eye once the procedure was performed. But, when the doctor began working on her left eye, she says something went wrong.

“There was like a burning feeling and kind of a smell, too, that I didn't have with the other one. It was very uncomfortable and very quickly everything stopped,” she said.

“There was silence. They told me that something had happened, that they needed to take me into the exam room.”

During LASIK, a flap is created in the cornea. The underlying corneal tissue is reshaped with a laser. Then the flap is repositioned over the treated area.

“When they did my procedure they did what they call a free cap. They went all around the eye, they went all around the eye and removed that hinge, which then severed my cornea from my eye," Josef said.

After nearly a year of complications, including multiple attempts to correct the procedure and the loss of her cornea, Maytal found help from Space Center Eye Associates.

Dr. Keith Manuel said LASIK has a nearly a 99 percent success rate.

“Unfortunately, she was in the small percentage crowd that has difficulties with this surgery," he said.

He cautions that as with any surgery, things can go wrong. He suggests patients ask the success rate at the facility they choose, and ask how many procedures the surgeon has performed.

The American Refractive Surgery Council says it's not uncommon for surgeons to have 25,000 procedures under their belt.

“Who's your surgeon that we're gonna select here? There are good surgeons, and there are ‘gooder’ surgeons. And you always want to go for the best if you have that option,” Manuel said.

Not everyone is a candidate for LASIK. The Council says 15-25 percent of patients should be screened out. Consultations that feel like a sales pitch could be a red flag.

Manuel was able to get Josef fitted for a special contact lens, which has improved her sight to 20/40.

“It optically neutralizes those distortions and the result is, very good vision,” he said.

Her vision may be better, but Josef said she's still suffering financially and emotionally.

“I have a scar across my left eye which prevents me from seeing much. I still wake up sometimes, thinking that I'm in that room. I have a lot of nightmares,” she said. “I feel like, had I known that there could still be this much of a risk, I wouldn't have done it.”

Josef hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit against the surgery center, but her case was eventually dismissed. She has filed a complaint with the Texas Medical Board but the board said it won't comment on the status of complaints or investigations.

Joffe Medicenter said the vast majority of patients have good outcomes and it refers patients for follow-up care if they suffer complications. It sent this statement:

"LASIK is an FDA-approved procedure that has transformed the lives of millions of people by giving them freedom from the hassles of glasses and contacts. In fact, it is one of the most popular elective procedures in the United States. The experienced LASIK surgeons we are so proud to partner with are among the best in the industry, providing life-changing results for the vast majority of patients and caring for those rare patients who experience complications, including referring out for appropriate follow-up care. The surgeons and the company are committed to provide the very best patient care and customer service in each of our markets."

For a list of questions to ask when choosing your LASIK surgeon, click here.

About Josef's corrective lens

Josef said LASIK left her injured and nearly blind in one eye.

“He said, 'The next step after this (is) we'll have to get you fitted for a specialty contact,' and I kind of lost it because I said, 'What do you mean a contact? So there's never, there's not a LASIK or some sort of procedure that's going to suddenly fix all this stuff and I never have to wear (contacts)? What did I go through this for?'" Josef said.

After several operations to try correcting the botched procedure, doctors determined her eye could not withstand any more surgery.

Josef went to Space Center Eye Associates where Dr. Beth Robinson fitted her for a scleral contact lens.

“Because of her distorted cornea, we put her in a contact lens that's a large diameter, hard lens that can actually totally vault over the irregularities of her cornea, kind of creating a falsely smooth surface so that she can have more functional vision," Robinson said.

To get the perfect fit, Robinson first took a mold of Josef's eye and then built a lens to fit the damaged eye. The hope is that the lens will correct her vision and improve extreme dryness.

Robinson said it's proven beneficial for people with different kinds of eye injuries and conditions.

“We treat dry eye with this lens, corneal scars, irregularities such as Maytal's case. Post-surgical corneal replacement type patients -- anyone that has just irregular corneas or dry eye or are unsuccessful in soft lenses,” Robinson said.

Josef said her vision has improved, but it comes at a price.

“The contact has helped, but it's not perfect,” Josef said. “I can tell you what my contact does cost is $1,000 for one contact.”

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