Story and photos by Alexandra Shea
U.S. Army Medical Department Activity-Fort Carson
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Evans Army Community Hospital (EACH) opened a new refractive surgery suite Jan. 24 that offers Soldiers quicker, more accurate corrective eye surgery.
“We can get them out of their glasses,” said Michael Ives, combined eye clinic manager. “Generally, we improve their lives and make them more combat effective.”
The suite is a part of the War-Fighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program, a program for active-duty Soldiers to receive Lasik or PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) corrective eye surgery. Up until a few weeks ago, the surgery suite operated using the Johnson & Johnson Vision’s VISX Star 4 system. While the system was stable, safe and effective, it used technology from the early 2000s.
Allocated funds from 2017 were used to purchase the Alcon Wavelight EX-500 Excimer laser system and renovate the surgery suite. The system features a more precise laser and is able to connect to multiple systems that Army Medicine uses to document and update patient health records. The system not only saves a patient time in surgery, but also saves staff member’s time from updating patient records by hand.
“We save time in surgery and for our staff,” said Ives. “We have a set number of surgeries we can safely do in a day now, we are working to expand that in the next few months.”
Most Soldiers may agree that having anyone touch their eyes is awkward and uncomfortable. Using this new laser system, Soldiers can expect to spend less time under the laser.
The EX-500 takes about 12 minutes total to permanently correct a Soldier’s vision during a Lasik procedure, while an average PRK procedure takes around 25 minutes.
“I couldn’t tell you what my vision is right now, but it’s not great,” said Sgt. Samuel Leon Rodriguez, 52nd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, before his surgery. “I’m definitely expecting 20/20 after this though. I’m really excited about that.”
Leon Rodriguez was one of the first Soldiers to receive the Lasik procedure using the new laser system.
“I feel like I have something in my eyes,” said Leon Rodriguez, after completing his Lasik procedure. “It’s not bad though.”
Leon Rodriguez recalled his nervousness as he lay on the surgery table in the suite. The table swings freely between the two-part laser system. The first system prepared his eyes by creating a perfect incision around the shape of his eye’s lens. The table was then floated to the second system where Leon Rodriguez’s lens was folded over and the laser was activated, permanently correcting his vision. From the moment he stepped into the suite, his surgery lasted just under 13 minutes.
“I’m in no pain,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to things not being so blurry like they are right now.”
Blurry vision is common once a PRK or Lasik procedure is completed.
While total healing time can vary, Soldiers can typically expect their vision to clear between one and five days.
“If (a Soldier) is interested in having the procedure done, I say talk to your optometrist,” said Leon Rodriguez. “It’s not a painful process at all.”
While the War-Fighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program is available now, eligibility requirements include a detailed eye exam and Soldiers must have at least six months’ time in service remaining before their separation date or retirement.
Soldiers interested in becoming a participant in the program are encouraged to make an appointment with their assigned ophthalmology clinic to discuss treatment and eligibility.