A History of Refractive Laser Eye Surgery in Louisville

Laser Eye Surgery

UofL Health – Eye Institute and  UofL Physicians – Eye Specialists are committed to providing excellent care for ophthalmology, and to teaching and research. Our eye care specialists provide comprehensive services, including LASIK eye surgery. Additionally, The Laser Eye Center at UofL Health – Medical Center East is one of four places providing laser certification as part of residency training. There are several events that occurred in the past few decades to make this all possible.

My first encounter with the excimer laser was at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, England. I watched in amazement as calcium deposits on the cornea were invisibly erased with the laser beam. Even more remarkable was the correction of a nearsighted patient with the laser.

I learned that each pulse of laser energy removed 1/10,000 of an inch of tissue in a billionth of a second. When paired with a computer program, the laser could reshape the cornea, allowing correction of farsightedness, nearsightedness and astigmatism and eliminating the need for glasses and contact lenses.

When I returned to Louisville, I contacted the president of Humana, the late Wendell Cherry, regarding acquisition of a laser through Humana’s Venture Capital division. At that time, Humana sponsored the lithotripter (a device to break up kidney stones), Barney Clark and the artificial heart and other innovative programs.

With the tremendous assistance and support from medical school dean Arthur Keeney, M.D., (my mentor from Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia) and ophthalmology department chair Thom Zimmerman, Humana formed a partnership with University of Louisville and laser manufacturer VISX to become a test center for the FDA clinical trials. As principal investigator, I enrolled more than 700 patients in the trials and followed them for more than two years, leading to FDA approval of laser eye surgery in 1996.

The next chapter in the laser saga continued when Humana decided to exit the hospital business and focus solely on insurance. It had to divest itself from the laser. It was purchased by 15 ophthalmologists from throughout the state and a laser center was established at Suburban Hospital.

With the assistance of VISX, I was able to train and certify the doctors on the use of the laser to initially treat nearsightedness and astigmatism. Later, the FDA approved treatment of farsightedness.

The venture was an absolute success. Over the years, 12 additional surgeons joined the group, performing more than 25,000 procedures. In 2021, the laser was acquired by UofL Health and was moved to UofL Health – Medical Center East to establish the UofL Health – Laser Eye Center.

The laser company VISX was eventually purchased by Johnson & Johnson and a new division, J&J Vision Services, was created. I approached the new director with a proposal to train the ophthalmology residents at University of Louisville in laser eye surgery. With the advice and counsel of the administration, this was approved by the university and J&J Vision agreed to subsidize the program.

The residents attend lectures on the use of the laser and the surgical procedure, followed by a wet lab to practice the surgery on pig eyes. The residents then perform the surgery on patients under the guidance of very experienced senior ophthalmologists. The training was expanded to include the residents from University of Kentucky.

Only three other universities in the country offer laser certification as part of residency training. To date, a total of 24 residents have completed the certification and will be able to perform laser refractive surgery when they enter practice.

The story would not be complete without acknowledging the tireless efforts of Frank Burns, M.D., to staff the laser clinic and proctor laser surgery. His contributions to the program have been invaluable.

If you have questions, be sure to speak with your eye care specialists. UofL Physicians – Eye Specialists offers comprehensive eye care to patients. The Laser Eye Center at UofL Health – Medical Center East offers patients refractive eye surgery procedures including LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileuses) and PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) procedures. Call 502-259-6277 to schedule your initial, free consultation visit.

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Article by: Richard A. Eiferman, M.D.

Richard A. Eiferman, M.D., is a clinical professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. Dr. Eiferman’s specialties include LASIK eye surgery, cornea and refractive surgery. He received his medical degree and completed his residency in ophthalmology at Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Dr. Eiferman completed his fellowship in cornea/external disease at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.

All posts by Richard A. Eiferman, M.D.
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