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Belvoir Hospital first in DoD to perform new vision correction procedure
Belvoir Hospital first in DoD to perform new vision correction procedure
The Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program and Research Center at the Belvoir Hospital performs the first small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE) procedure in the DoD, the latest advancement in laser eye surgery. For SMILE, the refractive surgery research team here is the Army arm of a landmark, tri-service research collaboration between Army, Navy, Air Force and Zeiss Meditec. The procedure uses a very fast, short-pulsed laser to perform the vision correction procedure and as a result, visual recovery time is accelerated.
(Department of Defense photo by Reese Brown)
by Alexandra Snyder
Fort Belvoir Community Hospital Public Affairs

FORT BELVOIR, Va. (March 17, 2017) -- Fort Belvoir Community Hospital will see itself into the history books for the second time in recent months, having performed the first small incision lenticule extraction (SMILE) procedure in the Department of Defense, the latest advancement in laser eye surgery, March 16.

“I am extremely proud of our refractive team for working so hard to make this happen.” said, Army Lt. Col. Bruce Rivers, Director of the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program and Research Center at Belvoir Hospital.  

The FDA recently approved the very fast and short pulsed femtosecond laser to be used to perform SMILE vision correction. In the procedure, the laser creates a thin disc within the cornea which is removed by the surgeon through a cut created on the corneal surface. The procedure lasts approximately 15-20 minutes with the laser activated for approximately 90 seconds per eye. Once the tissue is removed, the cornea reshapes to correct nearsightedness. As there is no flap created in the SMILE procedure, visual recovery is accelerated. Both eyes can be treated in the same session.

"We are thrilled to extend this treatment option to active duty Service Members under the Warfighter Refractive Eye Surgery Program" said Rivers. Unlike LASIK, he added, “with SMILE, there is no tissue vaporized in the procedure, which means the wound recovery time is significantly less. More importantly, with no corneal flap created, there is no risk of flap dislocation.”

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Mahmood, a submarine mechanic, was one of the first patients to receive the treatment at the facility. He said he felt the surgery would make him a better Sailor.

“On a submarine we have to be able to put our breathing equipment on in approximately 30 seconds, in case of emergency. Glasses make this difficult,” said Mahmood. “Getting this surgery means I have one less thing to worry about while deployed and can focus 100 percent on the mission”

Marine Capt. Miles Elliott, who is assigned to an aircraft squadron, agreed.

“My squadron deployed on an aircraft carrier and while on the flight deck, my glasses were swept off my face by the force of the planes launching,” Elliott said, noting that those on the flight deck can’t wear contacts due to the heat of the tarmac. “They fell overboard, and if I hadn’t had a spare pair, I expect it would have taken some time to get another set out in the Arabian Gulf. It will be nice, after this surgery, to not have to worry about things like that.”

While SMILE has been performed internationally since 2011, the recent FDA approval allows for use in the U.S. The procedure will be evaluated by all three services with a special focus on service specific requirements and exploring expansion of the FDA approval parameters.

“A big part of this story is the collaboration between the three services and the manufacturing company in our combined effort to bring service members the latest technology available,” said Rivers.

Refractive surgery is available to active duty service members at select locations around the U.S. However, the SMILE procedure will only be available at three locations – Belvoir Hospital, San Diego Naval Medical Center, and Wilford Hall in San Antonio – for research purposes.

“Our goal is to achieve the most precise correction without a loss in military task performance, including low light and limited visibility operations, an effort that will be spearheaded at these research locations,” said Rivers.

The Army effort will be led by Col. Mark F. Torres and Rivers, the Navy effort will be led by Cmdr. John Cason and the Air Force effort will be led by Lt Col. Matthew Caldwell.

“The visual requirements for military personnel are demanding,” said Rivers. “Correction of myopia with eyeglasses or contact lenses restricts some of the best and brightest from roles in the military and causes difficulties in deployed environments. We currently have excellent results with cutting edge laser refractive procedures like custom and wave-front optimized PRK and LASIK and we expect to see the same results with SMILE. It’s very exciting that we have another option to offer our patients when it comes to correcting their vision.”