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What are the risks of LASIK eye surgery?

TV news meteorologist's suicide raises questions
Posted at 5:50 PM, Feb 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-19 07:50:40-05

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) — In late November, just a month after Detroit TV news meteorologist Jessica Starr underwent a LASIK eye procedure known as "SMILE," she turned to her viewers on Facebook asking for advice on how to recover.

"I really want to come back, but I need more time to recover," she wrote on Facebook, complaining of dry eye and asking viewers to keep her in their thoughts. Just a few weeks after, before Christmas, she took her own life. Starr was a 35-year-old mother and wife.

Her case is not uncharted territory, others have blamed the procedure for pushing patients to take their life. But the FDA has yet to draw a link between suicide and LASIK.

"It's a very normal reaction to be scared about getting eye surgery," Dr. Ephraim Atwal--of Atwal Eye Care in Cheektowaga--said. He has performed LASIK since 2011 on more than 2,000 patients a year.

Atwal does not perform the SMILE procedure that Jessica Starr underwent. The procedure, which reshapes the cornea by removing tissue after a tiny incision is cut in the patient's cornea using a laser, only helps a small number of patients. That's the reason, Dr. Atwal says, he does not perform the procedure at his office.

"For me, LASIK is the gold standard," he said.

Just ask Jeannie Winger, who's actually worked at the Atwal office for eight years. We went in the operating room with her as she ditched her glasses and got LASIK done on one of her eyes.

Before patients even get to the operating room, Dr. Atwal performs extensive eye screening tests and explains possible side effects, including dry eyes, glare, halos, double vision and vision loss. If a patient is a good candidate and Dr. Atwal feels he can be successful, the surgery is a go.

It's relatively pain free and quick. Winger's surgery took less than five minutes.

"For me to open up my eyes and be able to see if just fascinating, it's very heartwarming, too," Winger said.

A recent Food and Drug Administration collaborative project studying hundreds of LASIK patients, found "more than 95% of participants were satisfied with their vision." But 46% of patients who reported no visual issues before-surgery, developed at least one symptom post-surgery.

This procedure is not for everyone. The FDA tells 7 Eyewitness News, it is in the process of developing new patient guidelines to communicate possible risks with LASIK surgery.