Carol Baum can make out the print on a magazine, but her cataracts often make more distant objects harder to see. "My husband sees things I don't see, you know. He might just say, look at that over there and I'll go over where?" Baum said.
So she's going to have the cataract in her left eye removed Thursday. Her surgeon is planning to use a newly approved laser system called Catalys, developed here in the Bay Area. "The laser is more precise and more accurate," Cleveland Eye Clinic Dr. William Wiley said.
First, the device takes a high resolution image of Carol's eye. Then it creates a virtual map that will guide its laser during the procedure. "Ok, I'm just going to guide the laser in the position," Wiley said. Using the coordinates, the laser cuts a precise, computer guided incision to gain access to the cataract.
According to developers, the incision is far more precise than what surgeons could achieve by hand. "It's remarkably better. It is actually down to a scale of a single cell, in terms of precision" Stanford University Dr. Daniel Palanker said.
The laser technology was first developed at Stanford. Later, a private company called Optimedica, located in Sunnyvale, integrated the laser into an automated system designed to streamline the popular surgery. "Cataract surgery is widely the most performed procedure in the world. There's about 19 million of them done per year," Optimedica CEO Mark Forchette said.
With the lasers path already plotted, the surgeon simply activates it with a foot pedal. Once the incision is open, the laser energy also softens the cataract tissue to make it easier for the surgeon to remove. After about three minutes, Carol is moved into the main operating room for that part of the procedure. And after successfully removing the cataract and replacing the lens, Carol's doctors are ready to send her home.
Developers say the less invasive laser technique typically results in a shorter recovery time. "Each day the vision is going to get sharper and sharper. So now that this eye has been done, in about a week or so we can do the cataract surgery on the right eye, to match the eyes out," Wiley said.
The Catalys system recently received FDA clearance, and its use typically doesn't affect insurance coverage for the cataract procedure.