The Detroit News

By Lila Lazurus / Special to The Detroit News

If you needed to grab your glasses to read the newspaper, this article is for you.

For the first time in several decades, Leon Higgins, 58, no longer has to make the run from room to room searching for his specs before he can read. Even better, he doesn't have to wear his glasses to drive or read signs.

"When you're wearing glasses, it causes a lot of strain on the eyes, so I don't get a chance to do as much reading as I like," says Higgins, who's been driving a school bus in Farmington since retiring from General Motors.

Until this week, Higgins needed glasses to see near and far, which made him the best type of candidate for a relatively new procedure called clear lens extraction. During the procedure, the patient's natural lens is removed and replaced with a multifocal lens set up for near and far vision. According to ophthalmologist Dr. Walter Cukrowski of the Michigan Eyecare Institute, the procedure is ideal for people with cataracts and people with extremely high prescriptions.

"With this procedure, you can have it done on both eyes and see near and far and have the binocular phenomenon, which people really enjoy," Cukrowski says.

New eye procedures like this are great news for baby boomers who don't want to be dependent on glasses.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to get rid of the glasses altogether," Higgins said as he was wheeled into the operating room.

He wasn't nervous as they numbed his eyes for the procedure. "When you deal with 300 or 400 kids a day, your nerves are pretty much in check," he said. He was given a slight anesthesia (though some patients opt for anesthetic drops without sedation).

Within moments, Higgins' natural lens was removed and the multifocal lens implanted. "The lens is made in such a way that it has rings," the doctor explains. "These concentric rings emanate from the center, allowing people to see near and far."

Less than half an hour after arriving in the operating room, Leon Higgins was able to throw away his glasses for good.

The side effects patients fear most are problems with night driving, Cukrowski says. They're concerned about halos and glare from oncoming headlights. But the doctor says many of his patients who already had this problem prior to surgery find it improves after the operation.

"Over time, the vision tends to get better and better, and the problem with the glare and the halos really isn't a significant problem in the future," he says.

If the patient has a significant cataract, the procedure is usually covered by insurance. Otherwise, it costs around $2,500 per eye.

Higgins will use special drops to prevent infection for the next six weeks. Then, he should see clearly for years to come.

"This lens design should last a person's lifetime," Cukrowski says. Moments after surgery, Higgins was reading aloud without glasses. And just days later, he's already back in the driver's seat of his school bus.

"I hope he's driving that bus with a smile on his face," Cukrowski says.

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