Advanced laser eye surgery: a first for Pietermaritzburg

Posted on 27 February 2023

An ophthalmologist in private practice at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg has been performing multiple life-changing laser eye surgeries after acquiring the city’s first refractive laser machine.

Dr Nicholas Davey had until recently performed all his laser surgeries in Durban, where the only two laser machines in KwaZulu-Natal were located. This prompted him to invest in his own refractive laser machine, completing Pietermaritzburg’s first successful procedure in December 2022.

“The machine – the SCHWIND AMARIS 750S, an exceptionally high-speed, high-precision eye laser system – is now in my rooms at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg and is the first of this technology in the city,” he says.

The machine is designed to correct vision, addressing problems like short-sightedness, and astigmatism – bending of the cornea, farsightedness, or a combination of these. Generally, laser treatment eliminates the need for spectacles, contact lenses and reading glasses.

Quick and painless

“For any patient who has a vision problem before or after surgery – even if they’ve had a lens procedure and are still slightly out with their vision, this machine can optimise that and get them on target,” explains Dr Davey. “You can adjust or correct for a particular vision problem by shaping the cornea or the surface of the cornea with this laser. It’s fast, extremely accurate and has a very low risk and complication rate. It’s wonderful to have as a quick and painless solution to many traditionally very difficult problems that we weren’t previously able to treat accurately.”

Therapeutic laser is also available to treat more complicated eye disorders such as irregular corneas like keratoconus, a condition in which your eye’s cornea is unable to hold its round shape. “If the keratoconus is picked up early enough, you can use this laser to smoothen or flatten out the surface of the cornea and then use a method called crosslinking to stabilise it,” says Dr Davey. “The machine is quite dynamic.”

In December last year, Dr Davey performed the first advanced laser eye surgery in Pietermaritzburg. He has since operated on a number of patients and counting. “We do very sophisticated preoperative scans, which give us all the data we need to determine what laser would be best to improve a particular vision problem,” he explains.

“If our scans show you’re a good candidate, you can have it on the same day and be lasered within minutes. Just a few moments change your life forever – your vision becomes clear.” Postoperative care includes eye drops and an appointment three days after to remove temporary contact lenses that are inserted after surgery.

“In almost all cases, patients are then free of glasses or contact lenses, which over the long term can cause discomfort, infection or even eye damage if used incorrectly,” says Dr Davey.“Laser is a modern marvel that people need to be aware of. Having the machine at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg is literally opening people’s eyes to what’s possible with this kind of technology.”

Apart from its benefits for patients, the technology has also boosted the interest in other ophthalmic-related services at the hospital. “In some cases with patients responding to laser ads, we’ve found that a cataract or a lens procedure may be preferable..”

Lifelong benefits

While the therapeutic laser is sometimes covered by medical aids, laser eye surgery is generally not. “Yet, when you compare the cost of a once-off laser versus glasses and contacts, you’ll probably find that over five years you’ve already paid off that laser and then you have the benefits for the rest of your life,” Dr Davey argues.

He developed a passion for laser eye surgery while completing two subspecialty fellowships overseas, one in Greece and one in Canada, both dealing largely with refractive laser surgery. “Patients are very happy after the procedure; they have a much better quality of life,” he says.“So, it’s very rewarding work and a tool that adds value to our existing surgery.”

One such happy patient is world-champion PlayStation gamer, Shiaan Rugbeer, who had laser surgery with Dr Davey in January this year to correct his astigmatism. “I’d always wanted to stop wearing glasses,” he says. “Yet I was told by multiple optometrists that I couldn’t go for laser eye surgery –until I met Dr Davey!”

“After having the procedure, I felt the difference instantly. My eyesight had already improved, and it kept improving daily.” After having had to wear glasses 24/7 for 16 of his 25 years, being spectacle-free has been life-changing for Rugbeer.

“It has allowed me to play sports and do any outdoor activities while not having to worry about breaking his glasses – that’s worth it alone,” he says. “The smallest things make the biggest difference, like simply lying in bed and watching TV without stressing about squashing the glasses.”

Published in Innovation