Quad Cities, IL/IA

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Pilot Gets Cleared for Takeoff After Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery


Submitted by Mississippi Valley Surgery Center

Excellent vision isn’t something Robert Jones just hopes for—he depends on it for his livelihood. 

That’s because Robert Jones of Bettendorf, Iowa is a commercial pilot. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires Robert to demonstrate 20/20 vision with glasses or contacts. So when his doctor told him that he was on the cusp of not passing his vision test during his last annual flight physical, Robert understandably got nervous. His career was on the line.

“It turned out I had fast-growing cataracts in both my eyes,” said Robert. “I didn’t realize that my eyesight was getting worse, which is not uncommon. It happened gradually, and my vision wasn’t blurry… it was just not clear.”

After an initial exam with an eye doctor in the Quad Cities, Robert connected with Dr. Siv Brit Saetre, an ophthalmologist at Davenport Eye Group. Dr. Saetre has teamed up with Mississippi Valley Surgery Center, an outpatient surgery center in Davenport, to offer advanced, laser-assisted surgery to remove cataracts. This pioneering, minimally invasive surgery results in more precision and overall faster recovery time—and made it possible for Robert to resume his career in the air.

Understanding Cataracts
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s naturally clear lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. When this happens, light cannot be properly focused on the retina, and visual sharpness decreases. Cataracts are progressive, meaning they worsen with time.
“Patients with cataracts often describe their vision similar to looking through a frosty or fogged-up window,” said Dr. Saetre. “It becomes very hard for them to read, drive a car in the evening hours, and even read people’s facial expressions.”

According to Prevent Blindness America (PBA), cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 40. Today, cataracts affect more than 22 million Americans above age 40. As the U.S. population ages, more than 30 million Americans are expected to have cataracts by the year 2020.

Advancements in Cataract Surgery
While traditional cataract surgery has been around for years and has high success rates, the pioneering LenSx® femtosecond laser-assisted surgery is taking this already safe procedure and making it even more reliable through new levels of accuracy and predictability.
“There’s a misconception out there that lasers have always been used in removing cataracts, but that’s not true,” said Dr. Saetre.

In traditional cataract surgery, incisions are made by scalpels, the cataract is then removed by breaking up the lens into small pieces using an ultrasonic device and then suctioning the pieces out with a vacuum—a process referred to as phacoemulsification. After the natural lens is removed, the surgeon replaces it with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOL). This permanent, artificial lens provides appropriate vision correction for each patient.

The LenSx® femtosecond laser-assisted surgery is an advancement from traditional cataract surgery because it utilizes a beam of laser light to create the necessary incisions. No scalpels are necessary. This enhances the surgeon’s precision and results in less distortion and faster procedures.

Back in the Air After Outpatient Surgery
According to Robert, the laser-assisted surgery at Mississippi Valley Surgery Center was an experience he felt good about.

“Everyone was very nice and made me feel extremely comfortable. They even gave me a heated blanket—I probably could have stayed there all afternoon!” joked Robert. “The whole procedure was very quick. After the pre-op process, they gave me an IV to make me a little groggy, and I was in and out of the operating room in about 15 minutes.”

The positive impact of the procedure was immediate for Robert.

“My eye exam at Dr. Saetre’s office the very next day confirmed that I had 20/20 vision,” said Robert. “I noticed immediately that everything was clear again.”

The benefit of having a minimally invasive procedure performed at a facility like Mississippi Valley Surgery Center is that the recovery time is very short. The 2.2 millimeter incision made during the surgery generally requires no stitches and heals itself in a few days. To reduce inflammation, prevent infection, and keep the eye moistened, antibiotic and steroid eye drops are used.

“The precision of the laser is incredible,” said Dr. Saetre. “This makes the whole procedure much more predictable and results in much faster recovery times.”

After having cataracts removed in both his eyes, Robert’s vision is back where it should be. While he does still need reading glasses, he has once again been cleared to fly the friendly skies.

“I was flying a week after the procedure,” said Robert. “I had to stick to low-level flights for a couple of weeks due to the high pressure at high altitudes. But shortly after that, I was back to normal. It’s been a great experience for me.”

Dr. Saetre advises everyone with cataracts to take the time to educate themselves about their options.

“While traditional cataract removal is a great option for many patients, I would encourage everyone to look into the laser-assisted procedure, too,” she said. “Take the time to learn about all your options so that you can make a wise choice when it comes to the cataract surgery that’s right for you.”

To learn more about the Davenport Eye Group, visit www.DaveportEye.com. To learn more about the Mississippi Valley Surgery Center, go to www.mvhealth.net, and visit Facebook at www.facebook.com/MississippiValleySurgeryCenter.