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LASIK Documentary at ASCRS 2011 Symposium in San Diego

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March 25-29, 2011

San Diego, CA – Ophthalmologists from around the world will be viewing for the first time a new film documenting the fifteen year process of investigating laser vision correction procedures leading to the approval of LASIK by the Department of Defense and ultimately NASA, at the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Symposium in San Diego March 25-29. It’s a story that started in San Diego at the Navy Medical Center, with the Navy Seals in 1993. Local surgeons Michael Gordon, M.D. and Captain (Retired) Steven Schallhorn, M.D. of the U.S. Navy performed the first studies.

The film leads us through the initial testing, to approval of Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK), Laser Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis (LASIK) and advanced Custom LASIK. The city of San Diego is the backdrop to the sights and scenes of the program. In 1995 the Navy approved PRK for some military personnel, which led to the opportunity to investigate its use with aviators. Dr. Schallhorn, former Director and Program Manager for Navy Refractive Surgery, and himself a retired Navy F-14 Tomcat pilot and Top Gun instructor, was responsible for the major clinical trials conducted by the Navy and for the Department of Defense over a 15 year period.

In 1999, the major study for aviators began and other branches of the service became very interested. Under the guidance of Dr. Schallhorn and his San Diego-based team, all three branches of the service started the Department of Defense “Warfighter Refractive Surgery Program,” that led to the creation of numerous refractive surgery centers throughout the military, as well as a landmark program to treat Naval Academy Midshipmen prior to graduation. In 2004, based on the outcomes of Dr. Schallhorn’s research, the Navy approved PRK for aviators. Concurrently LASIK studies were being conducted with aviators and additional funding was approved to evaluate advanced technology, combining wave-front guided treatment with femtosecond lasers. In 2006, studies proved that modern technology, specifically wave-front guided femtosecond LASIK was clearly superior in terms of quality vision, such as improved night time driving performance. When LASIK results were presented to the Naval Aerospace Medicine Institute, they authorized an evaluation on aviators and the first patient was treated that year.

An evaluation of Custom LASIK in 100 military personnel showed that 95 percent achieved 20/20 or better uncorrected vision. These patients on average, were previously only able to read the first line (the big”E”) of the vision assessment chart.1. In a study of different methods to create the LASIK flap, 370 naval personnel underwent bilateral wavefront-guided LASIK with either the femtosecond laser or microkeratome blade. One week after surgery more than 76 percent of femtosecond laser patients achieved an uncorrected visual acuity of at least 20/16 (a full line better than 20/20) compared to 58 percent of microkeratome patients.

While characterized as an “elective” procedure by some, refractive surgery has profound, andeven life-saving, operational implications for service members in high risk warfare specialties. Navy S.E.A.L.S. and Explosive Ordinance Disposal personnel routinely report that PRK or LASIK has improved their chances of survival in training and in combat. In the aviator PRK study, 92% of pilots reported improved performance landing on the aircraft carrier, and 95% reported improved overall effectiveness as pilots after PRK. No pilot reported worse performance in any category. And in a separate study it was determined that over 90 percent of marksmen had improvement in marksmanship skills after laser vision correction; a significant result given the visual precision of marksmen.

Based on the results of studies conducted by the Navy, the U. S. Air Force approved LASIK for aviators in 2007, followed by NASA the same year. The NASA Medical Advisory Board recommended approval of LASIK as a “gatekeeper standard” that new recruits wanting to be astronauts could receive LASIK.

Through his work as Program Manager for Navy Refractive Surgery, and as a consultant to NASA, Dr. Schallhorn was responsible for the major breakthroughs in clinical trials conducted by the Navy and for the Department of Defense. “Astronauts and aviators routinely have problems with glasses and contacts”, Dr. Schallhorn says. “LASIK improves performance and ability to carry out the mission. For instance, it is not easy to instill an eye drop if there is no gravity.”

Dr. Schallhorn twice received the LEGION OF MERIT, the highest peacetime award given by the Department of the Navy for outstanding service, as a visionary leader in refractive surgery. In addition he received the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff award for Excellence in Military Medicine. He is also known as the inspiration for the Tom Cruise character (Pete Mitchell) in the movie Top Gun and served as a technical consultant during the creation of the script. He is now in private practice at Gordon Schanzlin New Vision Institute in San Diego and serves as the Global Medical Director for Optical Express, the largest provider of refractive surgery in the world. Michael Gordon, M.D. is founder of Gordon Schanzlin New Vision Institute. For over two decades, he has been involved in every aspect of the laser vision correction industry, as a surgeon, researcher and educator.

Dr. Gordon has performed thousands of procedures and is among the most experienced refractive surgeons in the world. He introduced Presbyopic Multi-Focal LASIK, (the first laser vision correction procedure to treat both near and distance vision) to the United States. Gordon Schanzlin New Vision Institute has been a trusted provider of eye care and eye surgery in the San Diego area for over 18 years. With highly-trained and skilled surgeons and the latest in surgical technology, Gordon Schanzlin New Vision Institute is committed to the highest in quality patient care. For more information, visit www.gwsvision.com.

1. Source: Captain (Retired) Steven C. Schallhorn, “US Navy study: Custom PRK versus custom LASIK”. Presented at the European Socity of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons annual meeting; September 8, 2006; London, UK.

2. Source: Tanzer DJ, Schallhorn SC. Comparison of visual outcomes with femtosecond and mechanical microkeratomes for wavefront-guided LASIK. Presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual meeting; November 13, 2006; Las Vegas, NV.

3. Source: Captain (Retired) Steven C. Schallhorn; Flag briefing to Commander, Naval Air Forces; May 4, 2005

4. Source: Captain (Retired) Steven C. Schallhorn; “Refractive Surgery in the Navy”, Presented at the Aerospace Medical Association annual meeting; May 17, 1999; Detroit, Michigan.