When I was a little girl, I marveled at our microwave oven. Strange as it may sound, I found it to be wonderfully inspiring. Prior to the day that my father unpacked it from its portable refrigerator-sized box, my only hands-on experience with cooking was using my hot pink Easy-Bake Oven. I just knew that this fancy new contraption would change my world.

“It cooks without heat!” I was in awe. If scientists could fashion such a tool and put it in my little old kitchen in Peckville, Pa., what was next? I dreamt about the possibilities almost every night, but I never would have guessed that it would add twice the real estate to the frozen foods section of my grocery store or turn my dad off from Swanson brand TV dinners into a true connoisseur of Wolfgang Puck.

Throughout my childhood, no other invention impressed me quite as much as that microwave did. The makeshift computer lab in my high school seemed like a cruel joke in comparison. Those machines were nothing more than slow, complicated electric typewriters, I thought. Totally uninspiring.

And so time—and technology—trudged on. I got my first VCR, my first “car phone” and my first desktop computer. All non-events. That is, until I started working in eye care and learned that the FDA was close to approving the use of an excimer laser to perform LASIK eye surgery. 

Surgeons had been using the excimer laser for some time to perform PRK, but LASIK was promising to be a much bigger deal. According to doctors who were involved in the trials or were using it off label, LASIK promised outstanding results and, most notably, a very speedy recovery. Like my beloved microwave, LASIK was fast. Soon, it would be affordable too.

Indeed, the FDA approved the use of the excimer laser for LASIK in 1999, and it did not disappoint. There was much fanfare, and consumer interest soared. Deep discounts helped make this complex elective procedure strikingly mainstream.

In a few short years, LASIK forever transformed the way many Americans view the world—both literally and figuratively—with its promise of freedom from glasses and the potential to live a more hassle-free life. But, that is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to how immensely you and your fellow eye care professionals have been affected.

LASIK set the eye care community on fire—in a good way. Manufacturers were feeding the excitement with heady explanations about wavefront and the potential of customized ablation. The race was on to make perfect vision—or better than perfect vision—a realistic prospect for as many people as possible.  And that meant striving for refractive excellence in as many patient populations as possible.

In this month’s Refractive Surgery Report, we focus on multifocal IOLs for cataract patients (see “The Finer Points of Premium IOLs”) and the latest transplant procedures for patients with debilitating corneal disease (see “Advances in Corneal Transplant Surgery”). Neither of these stories feature an actual LASIK procedure, yet these advances might not have been realized or given the environment to mature were it not for the furor of LASIK and the pursuit for refractive excellence that it brought about. 

Amy Hellem