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Carissa Poroko, Epi-LASIK Patient
“By my side every step of the way”
Not many brides would put eye surgery on their to-do list just a few months before their wedding. But after Carissa Poroko’s “nearsightedness” was revealed to actually be low myopia with irregularities in the shape of her cornea, she felt comfortable with Dr. Dimitri Azar’s, recommendation to have Epi-LASIK surgery just two-and-a-half months before her wedding day. Within three weeks, she had two successful Epi-LASIK procedures in both eyes and her vision was comfortably 20/20 long before her wedding day.
“I felt that I had the best care possible—the best of the best,” says Poroko, a 32-year-old managing partner of Tricom Associates, a Chicago-based integrated marketing, media relations and public affairs agency. “Dr. Azar really made me feel he had my best interests at heart and was looking for the safest option for me.”
According to Dr. Azar, who is recognized internationally as a leader in perfecting surgical techniques for correcting corneal imperfections, myopia is the visual condition in which only nearby objects appear in focus, “much like a camera permanently focused at a close distance.” In contrast, those with nearsightedness can only see near objects when they are not wearing glasses or other optical corrections.
“Either way, light entering the eye gets focused ‘in front’ of the retina rather than being focused ‘on’ the retina, resulting in an out-of-focus or blurred image,” he says. “The higher the myopia, the greater is the image blurring.”
Initially, Poroko didn’t think her blurry vision was anything but an annoyance. Her glasses prescription wasn’t cutting it anymore, but she didn’t want to deal with any irritations from contacts. So she decided to look into LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) options, and headed to a LASIK chain for a screening. That’s when she discovered she had irregularities with the shape of her corneas, which excluded her from regular LASIK.
The news felt “dropped on me from out of nowhere,” she says. “I was definitely alarmed.”
By the time she was tested at the Millennium Park Eye Center, where Dr. Azar sees patients in addition to his practice on the UIC campus, she had gone through two other screenings and had lots of experience with the testing process.
“Nowhere did I feel in better hands,” she says. “Everyone at Millennium Park was friendly and in tune with why I might be nervous because of my eye sight. The entire staff from the beginning to the end was very thorough and friendly.”
Dr. Azar notes that Epi-LASIK was the preferred laser vision treatment for Poroko due to her “subtle corneal topography irregularities and to prevent the development of ectasia.”
Epi-LASIK is a cross between LASIK and LASEK (laser-assisted sub-epithelial keratectomy), and is generally used with patients with less steep corneas. The surgeon uses a blunt, plastic oscillating blade, instead of LASEK’s finer blade, to cut the cornea’s outer layer, the epithelium. Also, the surgeon uses the plastic blade to separate the epithelial sheet from the eye, instead of using alcohol because it can potentially kill epithelial cells. Then, the excimer laser treatment is given to the exposed corneal surface. The epithelial sheet is replaced on the surface of the eye and a soft contact lens is inserted for a few days following surgery.
Epi-LASIK can take a week of recovery per eye, and it is a painful recovery. To help prep Poroko for her procedure, the staff talked to her about their experiences as patients and supplied her with goggles, masks and medications for her at-home recovery. After her procedures, Poroko’s vision was blurry for a few days afterward, and she went in for several check-ups. The MPEC staff also called to check on her constantly during her recovery so she wasn’t nervous.
“They were by my side every step of the way,” she says. “I got the feeling from them that they wouldn’t put my sight in jeopardy. There was a lot of trust involved in the process.”
At one point, she went home to Ohio a week after her second eye surgery. Her eyes weren’t 100-percent yet, and Dr. Azar was concerned that she would be a few hours away in case she had any complications. So, he gave her his cell phone number, antibiotics in case something negative happened and called to check on her. In addition, he called her when she got back a week later, and had her come in the next day.
On a previous occasion, a doctor who lived nearby met her at the corner of her neighborhood with prescription medicine when she ran out of her pain medications, so she didn’t have to go through the hassle of picking up a new prescription while her vision was blurry and she was in pain.
“It was almost like a house call,” she says. “That was just outstanding.”
"At Poroko's one month follow-up, her vision had improved from 20/80 in the right eye to 20/15 and from 20/70 in the left eye to 20/20," says Azar, noting the results were common.
Most importantly, Poroko’s vision was perfect on her wedding day. Now she feels relieved to be able to see signs in airports without squinting, watch baseball games, and feel more comfortable in business meetings and social settings.
“Overall, I have such a good quality of life compared to before,” she says. “I used to feel scared when I couldn’t see who was walking up to me. Your sight is the most important thing to take care of, and I wonder how I walked around like this before.”
Dr. Azar, who also serves as Dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, has made significant contributions to the treatment of corneal diseases and to advances in refractive surgery through sophisticated analysis and application of advanced optics. He is the author of 14 books dealing with corneal and refractive surgery.
by Megan Pellegrini