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Seeing Is Believing 

People who want to permanently correct their vision no longer have to choose between overly expensive procedures and quality surgical care.

At the 2-year-old Laser Vision Institute (3300 N. Causeway Blvd., Metairie, 834-3786; www.laservisioninstitute.com), Drs. Michael Insler and Herbert Kaufman, the medical director, bring decades of experience to the table from their posts at Louisiana State University and Tulane, and their prices for laser surgery to improve vision start at $499 per eye.

Meticulously reshaping the eyeball with a laser to correct vision imperfections sounds painful and dangerous, but it actually is a 20-minute surgical procedure with minimal recovery time and could help free a patient from eyeglasses and contacts.

"It's something people should consider if they want not to be dependent on glasses or contacts," says Insler, whose clinic surgically repairs about 100 eyes a week. "[Lasik is] an excellent product, we have good results, and it's affordable."

To perform the surgery, the medical staff first takes a topographical image of a patient's eye, which shows both shape and thickness, and the surgeon then maps out which areas need to be corrected. Once they're in the operating room, the surgeon uses a computerized laser to contour the surface of the eye, sometimes peeling back the cornea to repair vision problems. There are no stitches involved; the eye is one of the body's fastest healing areas and patients are generally ready to resume their regular activities after a three- to four-hour rest with their eyes closed.

"They generally have reasonably improved vision that day," Insler says. "The next morning they generally have fully recovered vision."

Not every patient will end up with 20/20 vision, he says, but some do and others will have 20/15, 20/30 and 20/40. "For some of the more severe cases, they're happy just being able to see and drive without glasses. Their habit is to wake up in the morning and reach for their glasses, but they don't have to do that anymore."

For people who need near-perfect vision for their jobs or hobbies, the surgery can have a big effect, such as airplane pilots and athletes. Tony Pena, who was manager of the New Orleans Zephyrs baseball team last year before leaving to become a bench coach for the Houston Astros, was surprised at the results he achieved through laser surgery. "He told me after he had the surgery, 'If I had done this 10 years ago ... I would still be playing pro baseball because I'm seeing so well,'" Insler says.

Not everyone can become a surgery patient at The Laser Vision Institute, however. Prospective patients first undergo medical evaluations to determine they don't have eye diseases or other illnesses that would preclude them. They also have to demonstrate that their expectations of success are realistic, the doctor says.

"We do a good job of pre-ops to make sure they're good candidates," Insler says. "One big reason not to do someone is what their expectations are; if they want something better than 20/15 vision, they're probably better off sticking with glasses or contacts. The problem is that now the price is down, everyone thinks they're a good candidate. There's also a perception that it's not real surgery; that it's a laser and there won't be any complications."

Despite his and Kaufman's experience, Insler says the staff at the institute is constantly updating its methods and looking at new advances that can make surgery easier and more exact, such as an eye tracker that can detect and correct for even the slightest movements of the eye. A new laser also is being developed that will allow doctors to treat patients with higher degrees of astigmatism than current equipment.

"We don't take any shortcuts," Insler says. "We are constantly trying to improve. We learn every time we do a case. We're constantly trying to improve outcomes."

The Laser Vision Institute also has had to combat impressions that discounted prices mean lower quality and that national companies may not be around for after care.

"There is some backlash because of national chains doing this, then getting out of business," he says. "But we're here to stay. We think we have a very good, superior product, despite the fact that our prices are discounted and we see a lot of patients."

To him, the proof is in the pudding, in this case the number of new patients who are referred by satisfied customers. In one instance, a patient came in and was the 12th person in his office to seek visual acuity from Insler.

"It's amazing how many patients I get from patients," he says. "A lot of (business) now is word-of-mouth. That's testament to how good the surgery is, how quick recovery is and how well you see afterward."

click to enlarge Dr. Michael Insler positions a patient beneath a laser he'll use to correct her eyesight at The Laser Vision Institute.
  • Dr. Michael Insler positions a patient beneath a laser he'll use to correct her eyesight at The Laser Vision Institute.
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