|Corrective Surgery Allows Engineer to Set Sights on New Horizons |
Corrective Surgery Allows Engineer to Set Sights on New Horizons
By Gail Kulhavy, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center Public Affairs.
Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma -- April 20, 2001 (AFPN) -- Seeing with perfect vision is mandatory for pilots, so, for many, the dream disappears when they have to don glasses.
But for 2nd Lt. Eugene Jones, the dream was reborn recently after he underwent photorefractive keratectomy eye surgery.
2nd Lt. Eugene Jones sees his future in a new way since recent eye surgery may put him in the pilot's seat.
Photo by Margo Wright
Jones, an aerospace engineer with the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System support management division here, is one of the first active-duty recipients of an excimer laser procedure to correct his vision. He may be one of the first to enter pilot training after corrective eye surgery.
"My friend [2nd Lt. Chris Rust, a civil engineer at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas] and I were the first two non-study cases to go through the surgery," Jones said.
Before undergoing photorefractive keratectomy eye surgery, Jones did not meet flying standards. Now, he said his vision is better than 20/20.
Some may think this is a frightening procedure, but Jones said he was awake throughout the surgery process.
"It's a strange sensation," he said. "They lay you on a table and put some numbing eye drops in, roll you underneath a device with a big microscope and shoot the laser for about 10 seconds. You're awake and can see this whole process. You can't feel anything, but you can see it happening. When they do the main procedure, within 45 seconds you're done."
Jones said for several days it felt like he had sand in his eyes, and it took three days before his vision started to clear. But, he said he would go through the process again given the same circumstances.
Because he was nearsighted and had a stigmatism, Jones said he sent a request for an exception to policy waiver to be able to fly through the chief of staff of the Air Force during his senior year at the Air Force Academy in 1999.
"Unfortunately, it was disapproved, but on the letter that turned me down it said that once the Air Force approved laser surgery, they'd give me that opportunity," he said. "They did approve it and things fell in line."
Jones said he has not experienced any of the surgery's possible side effects, and has reaped full benefits in 20/20 vision and a chance to fly.
"I have to wait three months to make sure everything stabilizes and then I apply for pilot training," he said. "I had a chance to fly in an F-15 (Eagle) over in Germany and it's incredible -- there's nothing like it. I want to fly.
"I'm also working on my master's of business administration, so no matter what happens, I think I'm going to come out just fine," he said.
Jones currently provides engineering direction relating to designing, manufacturing, repairing and modifying wing and depot aircraft. Performing his tasks hasn't changed, but how he performs them has.
"I don't have to worry about my glasses anymore," he said. "Especially in other areas of my life like sports. I guess it also gives me a better sense of self-confidence and a boost to the self-image."
PRK is one of the most recent developments in vision correction with improvements in patient risk and correction capabilities. Rather than making cuts in the cornea, PRK sculpts an area five to nine millimeters in diameter on the surface of the eye.
"The team who performed this surgery was incredible and I felt confident that their process was going to get the job done," he said.
The Air Force officially approved waiver of vision correcting surgery (LASIK and PRK) for non-aviators in April 2000, said Lt. Col. Charles Fisher, aerospace medicine branch chief for the command surgeon's office for Air Force Materiel Command. Guidance permitting aviators and special operational personnel to undergo PRK for correction of some vision defects was approved in August.
Pilots who desire the procedure must undergo specific screening tests and have the procedure performed at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Fisher said. Other military members who desire the procedure should work with their military eye specialist to be sure they are appropriate candidates and to arrange for the procedure to be accomplished.
He said the U.S. military is establishing centers across the nation that will perform PRK for military members.
"Members must be carefully counseled regarding the potential for adverse outcomes of this, like any other irreversible surgery," Fisher said. "Moreover, some members find they have superior (20/10-20/15) correction with contacts or glasses, and that after PRK their vision is 'only' 20/20, thus not as acute as it was with glasses. For this reason, they should consult a military eye specialist before undergoing any vision correcting surgery."
Additionally, Fisher said LASIK, a commonly used form of refractive surgery, may be wavered for military service. However, it is disqualifying for flying duties and is discouraged for any member who may later desire to retrain into a career field that may involve flying or special operational duties. (Courtesy of AFMC News Service)