MIAMI (CBSMiami) – An estimated 20 million Americans have undergone LASIK eye surgery to correct nearsightedness and improve distance vision. Surveys show high patient satisfaction, but some patients say the minimally-invasive surgery ruined their eyesight.
Abraham Rutner says LASIK surgery damaged his vision, and nearly ruined his life.
“Everything appeared double. Around the lights were having starbursts,” he explained.
After months of not being able to drive or do his job, the Brooklyn electrician finally found help in Miami.
Optometrist Edward Boshnick fitted him with special contact lenses.
Boshnick estimates he’s treated thousands of patients with LASIK complications.
Paula Cofer had surgery 19 years ago.
“And from day one my vision was an absolute train wreck, and it still is today,” she said.
She started a LASIK complications support group on Facebook, and quickly found she was not alone.
“You really have to understand you’re risking your only pair of eyes,” she said.
Since 1998, an estimated 20 million LASIK procedures have been performed.
According to an FDA patient survey, more than 95 percent of patients were satisfied with their vision after surgery.
Still, the FDA’s own website is filled with stories of serious complications, with patients reporting relentless eye pain, dizziness, detached retinas. Some even told the agency that “lasik ended my life” and “this procedure needs to stop.”
“Essentially we ignored the data on vision distortions that persisted for years,” said Morris Waxler.
Waxler is a retired FDA adviser who voted to approve LASIK. He now says that vote was a mistake.
“I re-examined the documentation and I said, ‘Wow this is not good,’” he explained.
Waxler says his own analysis of industry data shows complication rates between 10 and 30 percent.
In 2011, he petitioned the FDA to issue a voluntary recall of LASIK. Three years later, the agency denied that request… and now tells CBS News it “has not found any new safety concerns associated with LASIK devices.”
Waxler believes it should be taken off the market.
“There’s nothing wrong with a person’s eyes who goes to get LASIK,” he said, “they could go and get a pair of glasses.”
Doctors who perform LASIK surgery say risks can be minimized with pre-surgical screening.
“The most important thing is knowing who to operate on and who not to operate on and there are people who really shouldn’t have this procedure,” said Dr. Jules Winokur with the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital.
Rutner now believes he was never a good candidate.
“I was blaming myself, ‘Why in the world did I go into it?’” he said.
Rutner estimates his vision is now about 90 percent improved. He tolerates the discomfort of hard contact lenses, but wishes he had known more before he had LASIK surgery.
For those thinking about getting LASIK, Rutner says he would tell them to “please think it over… it’s your eyes. It’s not something you can rectify later.”
Doctors CBS News spoke with stress the importance of pre-surgical screening to make sure the patient is a good candidate for the surgery.
People whose corneas have a certain shape, those who are diabetic or have other autoimmune diseases, or are taking certain prescription medications should not have LASIK.
The FDA says, as with any medical procedure, there are potential risks and anyone considering LASIK should weigh the risks and benefits.