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Cataract surgery light years ahead

Two leading ophthalmologists, McGill professors Dr. Darren Albert and Dr. Marino Discepola, spoke about cataracts at St. Mary’s Hospital recently.

Cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens behind the iris, prevent light from properly focusing on the retina.

The professors have each performed over 8000 cataract surgeries. Their recounting of the history of their operations, as well as the recent leaps in technology, was fascinating.

For thousands of years, primitive procedures involved sticking long, thin needles into the eyeball, clumsy suturing, infection and lengthy recuperation.

Today, with local anesthetic, antibiotic eye drops and computerized micro-technology, procedures have become routine and safe.

A big breakthrough came in 1948 when Sir Harold Ridley in London observed that plastic fragments from plane windows, lodged in the eyes of Royal Air Force pilots, were not rejected by the body. This led him to develop a hard plastic lens to replace the natural one. In 1967, Charles Kelman in New York developed an ultrasound technique to dissolve cataracts, thus eliminating large scalpel incisions. Then in 1983, affordable soft lenses became available to replace damaged lenses with only a micro-incision.

Alcon, the presentation’s sponsor and the world’s largest manufacturer of optical lenses, presented a new soft lens refined to not only provide clear vision, but to be individually tailored to eliminate most nearsightedness and farsightedness. The need for prescription glasses may eventually be eliminated altogether.

The Quebec medical system pays for the surgery and the insertion of hard lenses, but unlike other provinces, not the soft lenses, which cost about $300 each.



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