Undergoing the Eye Surgery Could Probably Lead One to Great Regrets As it could result in Devastating.
When Sohaib Ashraf underwent laser eye surgery to correct his short-sightedness, he was in and out of the clinic in 30 minutes — the procedure itself took just ten — but he had high hopes for the results.
‘I was looking forward to being able to see the numbers on the alarm clock in the morning and not having to fumble around for glasses any more,’ says Sohaib.
He had worn glasses since the age of five, and adds: ‘Like lots of people, I was fed up with them. I also wanted to improve my image, I was young and single at the time.’
The laser eye surgery was, indeed, life-changing — just not in the way he had expected. Since having the procedure six years ago, Sohaib, 32, who lives near Preston, Lancashire, with his wife Fahtima, 26, has developed blurred vision in his right eye, and ‘halos’ and glare in both.
Even worse, he suffers from permanent, stabbing pain in his eyes.
‘It never stops — I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep ever since the surgery, as I need to wake up every hour to put in drops,’ he says. He also has ‘terrible’ depression and his weight has shot up from 13 st to 21 st — he’s 5 ft 11 in.
‘This so-called simple procedure has robbed me of the best years of my life in a split second, and there’s no cure,’ he says.
Sohaib had been treated with LASEK, where the cornea (the clear front part of the eye) is reshaped to correct vision faults.
He says: ‘It is so widely available, I thought it would be OK, especially as it was performed by highly qualified surgeons. I came across some horror stories on the internet, but I ignored them. I did some research on the best surgeons and found one in Manchester.’
Sohaib says he asked about the risks, but the surgeon ‘downplayed them as just dry eye, which he reassured me would go after six months’.
‘He told me complications were more common with older procedures and that patient selection had improved, reducing the risks. I even asked him if he’d let his kids have it done, and he said yes.’
Reassured, Sohaib underwent the procedure in January 2013. A week later, he started to feel sharp pain — ‘like I was being repeatedly stabbed in the eyes’.
‘I now know the pain was caused by recurrent corneal erosion syndrome — where the surface of the eye is destroyed by the eyelid, causing friction,’ he says. ‘Laser surgery can cause this because it removes the Bowman’s layer just under the cornea. This means the corneal cells are not anchored down and “erosions” can develop, where the cells are stripped away, exposing the corneal nerves, which are the most powerful pain generators in the entire body.’
At the time, however, Sohaib was told it was dry eyes and he was given drops. But the problem didn’t improve and Sohaib found himself back at the clinic, month after month.
Eventually, he was diagnosed with recurrent corneal erosion and, two years after the original procedure, he was offered another, where a needle is inserted in the eye to create a pattern of scar tissue, to make the corneal cells stick down.
Sohaib turned it down because there was no long-term safety data. ‘I couldn’t risk my eyes getting any worse,’ he says. ‘What happened wasn’t a case of the surgeon making a mistake or using the wrong laser — I would argue that reshaping the cornea is a technique that is inherently dangerous.
‘What I also noticed was whatever surgeon I saw, they all wore glasses; do they know something we don’t about the risks?’
Bitter words, but not ones that can be ignored. For Sohaib is a trained pharmacist and a health economist at NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, where his work involves scrutinising effectiveness, safety and economic data for treatments in clinical guidelines.
He has used these skills in his own research into laser eye surgery — and says what he has found is deeply worrying. Every year, around 100,000 Britons undergo refractive eye surgery, as it’s known, at a cost of around £4,000 for both eyes.
It is big business. The UK market alone is estimated to be worth at least £400 million a year. There are a number of techniques, including LASIK, where a flap is cut in the cornea and a deeper layer of the eyeball shaped, and LASEK, the type Sohaib had, which reshapes the eye’s surface.
With ReLEx SMILE, a newer technique, a deeper layer of the eyeball is reshaped via a tiny incision, rather than a flap.
The vast majority of patients are happy with the results, with surveys finding 98 per cent satisfaction rates with LASIK, for instance. The complication rate is regarded as ‘low’: the website of one leading ophthalmic surgeon puts it at ‘less than one in 1,000’ — typically dry eyes — and ‘in many cases’ the problem is ‘temporary’.