Lose the glasses

A liberating eye treatment from an eccentric professor and pioneer

A recently published picture of Michael Douglas shows him reading a book without glasses, something that would have struck me as highly unusual for a man of 68.

It may well be that Mr Douglas is one lucky man and that his vision is 100% perfect. But the vast majority of people who have gone past the 40 milestone need some form of booster, whether contact lenses or reading glasses.

Misplacing one’s glasses, once the domain of parents and grand-parents, becomes then a highly irritating reality of everyday life. Along with damaged or stained teeth, it is also one of the most tale-telling signs of advancing age. For the vain, it is a matter of constant self-consciousness; for those who have a busy lifestyle, a matter of wasting precious time.

Being liberated from it is one of the ultimate age-defying strategies in anyone’s books. The conventional wisdom of old has been that presbyopia, or age-related vision impairment, is both irreversible and untreatable. Ask a US-based ophthalmologist and, for the most part, this is the answer you would get.

Not so Professor Reinstein, pioneer of Laser Blended Vision, and an outspoken self-described technological migrant, working outside of the jurisdiction of the notoriously restrictive and slow-moving FDA (US food and drug administration).

It takes, he says, 10-20 years for new procedures to become established in the wider medical community but even longer for the FDA to approve their use in the USA, a source of continual frustration to a number of highly talented American ophthalmic surgeons.

He has written a candid and most excellent open letter on the subject, ‘Why I left the USA to practice medicine’, published in a scientific journal.

In order to understand what he does, one needs to understand vision to some extent. The majority of people have one dominant eye which compensates for the other. This compensation is a complex function performed by the brain. To complicate matters further, as we get older the muscle that pulls the lens of the eye into focus becomes, like all other muscles in the body, less flexible.

What Laser Blended Vision does is to increase the depth of field in both eyes – it achieves this through creating a zone of fusion that allows for the merging of images from each eye in the brain. If this sounds straightforward, it is because it represents an elegant and eminently rational solution. The procedure, however, is delicate in the sense that one has to have unerring judgement – just how much to increase the depth into this eye or that is Professor Reinstein’s special skill.

When he tells you he is a one trick pony, he means just that: in performing nothing but these highly precise procedures, he has honed his skill to absolute perfection. I ask him about the more commonly available treatments of presbyopia and impaired vision in general, such as IOLs (implantable) lenses and the ubiquitous contact lenses.

He refers to IOLs as ‘a static solution to a 100% dynamic problem’ – because, based on the explanation above, the brain still has to do much of the work. Multifocal IOLs represent a compromise, especially when it comes to night vision. Laser Blended Vision, on the other hand, offers ‘perfect optical quality and contrast control, accompanied by a high safety/low compromise profile’.

As for contact lenses, 1 in 8000 users develops problems, not to mention the invasive nature of placing them in the eye.

Dan Reinstein has a long-standing career as a scientist and holds a number of patents. Having developed his Laser Blended Vision research, he presented it to Carl Zeiss, the world leading optical manufacturer in 2005. The research was programmed into the Zeiss laser and has since become the benchmark standard for treating presbyopia and other visionrelated defects.

The procedure itself, which can last from just 8 minutes, is nothing short of magic, according to testimonials from thousands of patients, many of them household names. Reinstein quotes Arthur C. Clarke on cue: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

I ask him if the future holds more magic for age-afflicted vision. Presbyopia cannot, of course, be reversed at the moment – any more than the ageing process itself can. It can merely be delayed or treated. A perfect reversal of the disability could involve injecting lens material, Reinstein suggests, but we are not there yet.

Until then, his Laser Blended Vision procedure corrects 98% of all refractive errors and 95-97% of patients are suitable for it. There is a quirky side to Reinstein that would appeal to many of his celebrity patients – not only is he an accomplished performance saxophonist, he has the largest collection of curved soprano saxophones. He feels like a custodian of the instruments that might otherwise get damaged or simply lost.

As he walks me out of his office, he points to a clear box full of glasses. In a symbolic act, patients discard them as they leave the clinic – because the improvement in vision is virtually instantaneous and pain-free.

The clinic sends them in turn to the London Vision Clinic Foundation project in Nepal, a humanitarian organisation launched by Professor Reinstein in 2010. He also hands me a sheet of common myths related to vision, two of which I list below as I found them personally illuminating:

  • staring at a computer screen will damage your eyes
  • you need a stable eye prescription for a min. of 2 years before you can consider laser surgery

The London Vision Clinic (www.londonvisionclinic.com) is at 138 Harley Street, London W1G 7LA, UK.

Professor Reinstein can be heard playing the saxophone at the 606 Club in Chelsea, London SW10 0QD