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The medical staff at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fort Belvoir, VA, made history this year. On November 21st, surgeons at this military hospital became the very first in the USA to perform a successful eye procedure known as corneal cross-linking.
Corneal cross-linking has just been approved by the FDA for the treatment of a rare eye disease called keratoconus. Keratoconus thins out a person's cornea and causes it to unnaturally bulge out of the eyeball. The corneal cone deflects light away from the eye, which produces the sensation of blurry vision. This disease is usually first discovered in teenagers and young adults and can have serious consequences on a person's ability to see clearly.
This new corneal cross-linking procedure is only minimally invasive and takes between 60-90 minutes to complete. The surgeon removes the top layer of the cornea and then injects liquid riboflavin into the eye. A UV light is also used to help the cornea naturally form new collagen bonds. All of this is intended to help the cornea recover its strength.
Once the cross-linking procedure is done, doctors put a contact lens on the patient's eye to help the cornea heal. Since this surgery is still new, surgeons can only operate on one eye at a time.
The very first man to receive this surgery in a military hospital was Saverio Macrina, a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point set to graduate in May. Macrina needed this surgery in order to obtain this commission.
Many highly qualified applicants to West Point are actually turned away due to eye diseases like keratoconus. Macrina is very grateful for being able to get this surgery done, and he hopes that he will be the first of many to successfully undergo a corneal cross-linking surgery.
Keratoconus currently affects around 200,000 people in the US each year, and 1 in 1,000 people in the UK each year. The first symptoms of this disease include difficulty seeing in dark areas, distorted vision, and discoloration around the rim of the eye.
Although doctors can prescribe certain drugs and corrective lenses, these treatment options don't help everyone.