Erin Stahl, MD, recently performed laser refractive surgery on five eyes of four children at Children’s Mercy South, making Children’s Mercy only the third pediatric hospital in the country to offer this type of service.
The hospital’s refractive surgery program isn’t intended for young people hoping to ditch their eyeglasses in time for the prom or their senior picture; instead, it is designed for two groups of patients with serious refractive problems who have no other option.
“The most important thing about this program is that these are kids who are not developing vision with their glasses or contact lenses,” Erin Stahl, MD said. “These aren’t kids who just don’t like to wear glasses.”
One group is patients who have radically different prescriptions in each eye. Traditional therapy for these patients involves prescribing glasses or contacts, then patching the stronger eye to rehabilitate vision in the weaker eye. This treatment works for about 90 percent of those patients; the 5-10 percent who don’t improve are candidates for refractive surgery.
If the refractive error in these children isn’t corrected by the time they are ages 7-9, sight can be lost permanently because the brain never develops the ability to read signals from the eye.
“Once that window closes, there is nothing you can do,” Dr. Stahl said. “No refractive surgery in the future or no glasses will make that eye see better.”
The second group includes patients who have high refractive error in both eyes and for a variety of reasons aren’t successful with eyeglasses or contacts. Some don’t have ears; some don’t have noses; some have cerebral palsy and can’t hold their heads up to use glasses effectively. Others have developmental or behavioral disorders so severe that they simply can’t leave glasses on.
The actual laser part of the procedure is brief, about one minute. (Additional time is required to prepare the eye.) Dr. Stahl removes tissue and reshapes the front of the eye, changing the curvature and prescription. The goal isn’t necessarily to get children out of glasses, but to develop vision in the eye.
Children’s Mercy rents the required laser equipment and the refractive surgeries are performed at South. A semi truck arrives the night before surgeries are to be performed, the laser is set up and calibrated, and Dr. Stahl is ready to go.
Initial plans are to treat 15 to 20 patients a year. The laser equipment will be brought in about four times a year and about five to eight patients will be treated at each session.
Since this type of procedure is performed at only two other pediatric hospitals—Houston and St. Louis—Dr. Stahl believes our program will grow.
“Our goal is to get the word out that we’re doing refractive surgeries and to attract patients from all over,” she said.
Dr. Stahl is one of the only ophthalmologists in the world who is fellowship trained in both refractive surgery and pediatric ophthalmology. This unique training background allows her to use the most advanced refractive techniques with a thorough understanding of the visual needs and development of children.
“I’m proud to be able to offer this service to our community and I look forward to building a strong refractive surgery program at our hospital,” Dr. Stahl said.
Dr. Stahl is one of the only ophthalmologists in the world who is fellowship trained in both refractive surgery and pediatric ophthalmology.
Dr. Stahl performs pediatric refractive surgery that is available at only two other pediatric hospitals in the country. “Our goal is to get the word out that we’re doing refractive surgeries and to attract patients from all over,” she said.