Erie Doctor Uses Laser for Cataract Surgery

In an article regarding one of Sightpath Medical’s customers, “Erie doctor uses laser for cataract surgery”, there is mention of Sightpath Medical’s services. See below or click here to read the original article from

Janette Brown loves to travel with her husband, Tony. But lately the Warren couple has scheduled their trips so they are off the road by sunset.

Driving after dark had become too difficult and dangerous.

“The headlights from oncoming cars are just too bright,” said Janette Brown, 76. “It blinds me a little. So I haven’t driven at night in four or five years.”

Brown thought she was just getting older, but a visit to her ophthalmologist showed Brown had cataracts in both eyes.

On Wednesday, Brown and her husband traveled to the UPMC Hamot Surgery Center in Erie to have the cataract in her left eye removed using a new type of laser incisions.

“I have been doing cataract surgeries for 10 years, and this is the greatest advancement I have seen,” said E. Matthew Zimm, D.O., Brown’s ophthalmologist. “It’s precision and what the laser can do really makes a difference for the patient.”

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, which affects vision. It can occur in either or both eyes, and more than 50 percent of Americans 80 or older have developed cataracts.

Surgery is the only effective treatment for cataracts, according to the National Institutes of Health. Traditional cataract surgery involves the doctor making incisions with a blade on the side of the cornea — the transparent front part of the eye.

“I’ve become pretty good using the blade, but the laser takes it to the next level,” Zimm said. “Besides being more precise than a blade, the laser also softens the nucleus of the cataract. We need less ultrasound to remove the cataract, so there’s less inflammation and swelling.”

As a result, patients fully recover from cataract surgery in five or six days instead of the typical seven, Zimm said.

Brown’s surgery was one of 17 Zimm scheduled for Wednesday at the surgery center. Each surgery takes about 15 minutes.

Twelve of the surgeries were done using the new femtosecond laser by SightPath Medical of Bloomington, Minn., while Zimm performed the others with a blade. Eventually Zimm hopes to do almost all cataract surgeries with the laser.

It isn’t practical for Zimm or the Surgery Center to buy the $750,000 laser, so they rent it from SightPath, which transports it by truck to surgery centers around the country. It was scheduled to go to a New Hampshire surgery center next, and return to Erie on June 19.

“Today is the day I’m getting certified on the laser, though I have trained on it here and in Mentor (Ohio),” Zimm said.

Brown was wheeled into a procedure room on a gurney that was positioned directly under the laser.

Zimm walked in a few minutes later and sat down behind Brown’s head. He and a team of technicians adjusted the laser for a few minutes before Zimm clamped Brown’s left eye open and applied some numbing drops to it.

“How are you doing, honey?” Zimm asked.

“OK,” Brown said.

Zimm slowly lowered the laser closer to Brown’s eye until it touched. He then suctioned the end of the device to her eyeball to keep the cornea exactly where he wanted it.

The laser was programmed to run for 35 seconds. Zimm and the technicians watched on a high-definition screen as the device cut precise incisions into Brown’s cornea.

“We’re all done!” Zimm said.

But Brown wasn’t done with her surgery. She was wheeled into an operating room where Zimm removed the lens using ultrasound and suction.

He has to use two different rooms because the laser, which is about the size of large freezer, doesn’t fit in the operating room.

“Because we used the laser on Mrs. Brown, we only needed 9.6 seconds of ultrasound to break up her cataract — about half of what we would typically require,” Zimm said. “Ten more seconds doesn’t sound like much, but it will reduce inflammation to the surrounding tissue and speed her recovery.”

Not every patient will choose to have laser incisions, Zimm said. The main problem is that most health insurers aren’t covering the additional cost.

Brown will pay about $3,000 out-of-pocket per eye for laser incisions and upgraded artificial lenses that replace the ones damaged by cataracts. She said the benefit is worth the cost.

“Once I’m all finished with this, I will be able to drive at night and I won’t have to wear glasses anymore,” Brown said with a smile.

Article written by David Bruce, from Erie Times-News.