You are on page 1of 18

IS LASIK A CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE?

THE RELEASE OF THE CORS Survey

The FDA division chief Morris Waxler, PhD who oversaw the original approval of
LASIK in the US is now petitioning the FDA for its immediate withdraw. He has filed a
complaint with the Office of Criminal Investigations of the FDA alleging conspiracy and
fraud in LASIK’s original approval that continues until this day. This is a leak of just one
piece of the evidence.

One of the authors of the CORS Study was this man, research psychologist Roger Davis,
Ph.D. He gave this presentation before the Ophthalmic Devices Panel in April 2008.
That panel, in response to dissatisfied patient complaints, had convened to look at quality
of life problems after LASIK. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu1PL1Q5j-0

The other doctor on the study was Michael Grimmett, MD. Dr Grimmett’s had been a
member of the original ophthalmic device panel that had approved LASIK. This is his
CV at the time the original CORS Survey was submitted for publication in 2003.
OPHTHALMIC DEVICES PANEL
MAY 23, 2003 MEETING ROSTER
VOTING MEMBERS
MICHAEL R. GRIMMETT, M.D.

Dr. Grimmett is an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at the


Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami School of
Medicine. He graduated from Loyola Marymount University in
Los Angeles, CA and received his M.D. from the University of
California at Irvine. Dr. Grimmett is board certified in both
internal medicine and ophthalmology and completed his fellowship
in corneal and external disease at the University of Minnesota in
Minneapolis in 1993. He is a recognized expert on the
medical/legal/ethical issues associated with refractive surgery,
publishing The Call of the Sirens, Ethically Navigating the Sea of
Nonvalidated Therapies, in the Journal of Refractive Surgery, the
journal of the International Society of Refractive Surgery. He is a
peer reviewer for the Journal of Refractive Surgery, the American
Journal of Ophthalmology, and Cornea. Dr. Grimmett has been
actively involved in the Eye Bank Association of America since
1994, and contributes his expertise to the American Academy of
Ophthalmology’s continuing medical education (CME) program
and the development of their CME website.
What Dr Davis did not tell the attendees at the Ophthalmic Devices Panel meeting was
that this study of the Surgical Eyes Foundation (Ron Link, executive director) patients
was rejected for publication, despite the fact that it was only a survey of patient post
operative experiences. The survey should have raised more questions and should have
lead to further study and research, but instead, it was rejected outright, despite its
admitted limitations. The person who was ultimately responsible for rejecting the study
outright was the editor in chief of the Journal of Refractive Surgery, George Waring, III,
who has been editor of that journal from 1997 thru 2011. George Waring, III featured
prominently in Tom Harbin’s recent shocking book, “Waking Up Blind,” as George
Waring headed the committee that covered up for the many blindings, wrong surgeries,
false billings of Dwight Cavanaugh, MD, the department chair of the Emory
Ophthalmology Department. A reflection on George Waring by an ophthalmology
coworker at the time Dr Boothe can be found here.
http://retiredmensbookclub.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/personal-reflections-on-waking-
up-blind/

What was also not publicly conveyed by Dr Davis at the April 2008 Ophthalmic Devices
panel meeting is the fact that the authors received death threats at the time they attempted
to publish their work. The death threats were reported to authorities, but the originator
of those threats was never determined.
The Surgical Eyes Foundation Complications of Refractive Surgery (CORS) Survey

Roger D. Davis, PhD,* Ron J. Link, BA† Michael R. Grimmett, MD, FACS, FACP§

* Director of Research, Surgical Eyes Foundation, Melbourne, FL

† The Surgical Eyes Foundation, Tampa, FL

§ The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, The University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami,

Florida
Abstract

Purpose: To determine the types and frequency of subjective complaints for patients

experiencing complications following refractive surgery.

Methods: Participation in the Complications of Refractive Surgery (CORS) survey was voluntary

and self-initiated through subject contact with the Surgical Eyes Foundation web site. Patients

initially provided an open-ended general complaint, and were later queried about depression,

suicidal ideation, and overall success status as judged by their doctor.

Results: A total of 517 responses were submitted. After exclusion criteria, 392 responses were

coded resulting in 36 separate subjective complaint categories. 195/392 (50%) responded to the

three follow-up questions. 58 subjects reported suicidal ideation as a result of the surgical

procedure, and 83% (48/58) of this group were referred to as successes by their surgeon. 115

subjects reported severe depression as a result of the surgical procedure, and 76% (87/115) of this

group were referred to as successes by their surgeon.

Conclusions: A multitude of visual complaints and severe psychiatric morbidity may occur after

elective refractive surgery. Physicians’ and patients’ evaluations of quality of life may differ

drastically, as evidenced by large numbers of patients experiencing severe depression and suicidal

ideation while simultaneously being referred to as a success by their surgeon.


Within refractive surgery, the notion of a "complication" conjures a dichotomous boundary

between health and disease. Progressive corneal ectasia, for example, is a pathological process

that is either present or absent, even though it may proceed at different rates in different

individuals. For other post-surgery complications, however, a continuum of abnormal

functioning exists that forces scientific observers to choose arbitrary threshold values when

defining disease states. For example, it is generally accepted that the loss of two or more lines of

Best Spectacle Corrected Visual Acuity (BSCVA) following a surgical procedure is a valid safety

marker, even though a paucity of studies provide external validity for this cutoff value. In the

absence of such studies, we can only say that a loss of two or more Snellen lines of vision (i.e. 10

letters) has been accepted as being clinically meaningful simply because a gain or loss of one line

of vision can occur from one examination to another in unoperated eyes (particularly in

individuals with vision measurements of 20/10, 20/12, and 20/16).1

In the absence of formal scientific inquiry, however, it is impossible to determine the relationship

between quality of life and losses in BSCVA. Moreover, since BSCVA may remain constant

while quality of vision is lost, overall quality of life may decline with no apparent measurement

consequences in terms of Snellen eye chart scores. Hence, changes in Snellen vision following

refractive surgery may not be a sufficiently sensitive outcome variable, and may result in

underreporting of complications. For this reason, quality of life analysis2,3 and quality of vision

analysis4 following refractive surgery are gaining popularity, as evidenced by the recent emphasis

on wavefront studies which attempt to quantify the functioning of the total optical system. As a

pilot study, our initial purpose was simply to assess the primary complaints offered by visitors to

the Surgical Eyes Foundation web page, and to examine these complaints in conjunction with

three external validators: Self-reported severe depression, self-reported suicidal ideation, and

surgeon judgment of success, as reported by the patient.


Materials and Methods

Participation in the CORS survey was voluntary and self-initiated through subject contact with

the Surgical Eyes Foundation web page. No effort was made to ensure comprehensive

participation for all subjects visiting the Surgical Eyes Foundation site, although potential

subjects were occasionally urged to participate in a non-systematic fashion through electronic

mail and the foundation’s bulletin board.

Lacking any well-defined taxonomy of complications, the first portion of the study was designed

to discover the language in which patients think about, and communicate, their complications.

The stimulus question was open ended, and simply asked for a general complaint following

refractive surgery. Accordingly, subjects were free to provide answers of any length. No list of

complications was provided that might standardize responses across subjects, since this could

potentially bias the subjects thinking about their complications and thereby limit the scope of

responses received.

Since patient responses to an open-ended question may vary in length and complexity, a

systematic coding system was developed by one of us (RD) to quantify the type and frequency of

all patient-reported complications. Exclusion criteria for both the raw response data, and the

tabulated complication categories, included the following: (a) duplicate, incomplete, false, or

incomprehensible responses, (b) responses without reported complications, (c) infrequent or

uncommon surgical procedures or scenarios, (d) the absence of an antecedent refractive surgical

procedure, (e) the circumstance of unilateral refractive surgery, and (f) infrequent complication

categories that totaled three or less.


During coding of the responses, perceptual level visual symptoms and functioning were

considered to represent relevant study variables, rather than examination findings or test results.

Perceptual level variables were chosen simply because: (a) subjects are not ophthalmologists,

and process their visual world at the level of perception, and (b) a single tissue variable, such as a

central island, can produce multiple effects at the level of perception (e.g. "fuzzy vision" was

included, whereas “decentered ablation” was not included). Moreover, we had no valid method

to verify the veracity of examination findings, or test results, since the patient’s

ophthalmologist(s) were not participants in the study.

Each participant in the final study sample was electronically mailed three additional questions:

(a) Have you ever thought about suicide (regardless of whether you’d ever actually do it) because

of the effects of your surgery?, (b) Have you ever been severely depressed because of the effects

of your surgery?, and (c) Did your surgeon refer to you as a success?. To potentially increase the

response rate, subjects were informed that they were being solicited to increase the “quality of the

data,” and that the results would be tabulated for possible publication in a peer-reviewed

Ophthalmic journal. Moreover, subjects were informed that without sufficient participation, the

study would be criticized on the grounds that only the most severely impaired individuals chose

to respond. To ascertain if patients with more severe findings were more likely to respond to the

follow-up questions, the mean number of positive responses was tallied across all complaint

categories, and a comparison was made between responders, non-responders, and those who

could not respond because their e-mail address had changed.

Results

A total of 517 responses were submitted to the initial open-ended survey question. Of these, 37

responses were disqualified as being false or duplicate, 30 responses failed to provide


comprehensible or adequate outcome data, 23 responses were disqualified as representing cases

of multiple types of refractive surgery on both eyes or separate types of refractive surgery on each

eye, 21 responses were disqualified for not reporting a complication, 8 responses were

disqualified as representing uncommon or infrequent surgical procedures (e.g. ALK), 4 responses

failed to specify the type of antecedent surgery, and 2 responses were disqualified for unilateral

surgery. Thus, a total of 392 responses were coded, and comprise the final sample population.

A total of 36 response categories were generated: (1) Headaches, (2) Dry Eye, (3) Loss of

Contrast Sensitivity, (4) Depth Perception, (5) Night Halos, (6) Night Driving Difficulty, (7)

Low Light Problems, (8) Halos, (9) Ghosting, (10) Starbursts, (11) Double Vision or Polyopia,

(12) Glare, (13) GASH (an informal term used among patients to connote the co-morbidity of

glare, astigmatism, starbursting and haloes), (14) “Distorted or Weird or Warped Vision” (single

category), (15) Haze, (16) Poor Distance Vision, (17) Photophobia, (18) Difficulty with

Fluorescent Lights, (19) Eye Pain or Discomfort, (20) Eye Strain, (21) Eyes Don't Work

Together, (22) Driving Problems, (23) Fluctuating Vision, (24) Floaters, (25) Flashes, Fog or

Cloudiness, (26) Fuzzy Vision, (27) Smudged or Smeared Vision, (28) Hazy Images, (29)

Acuity Issues Loss of BCVA, (30) Blurred Vision, (31) Reading Problems, (32) Poor Near

Vision, (33) Lack of Fine Detail or Sharpness, (34) Blurred Vision, (35) Poor Near Vision, and

(36) Poor Distance Vision.

Electronic mail (i.e. the three additional questions) was sent to the entire 392 subject cohort

comprising the final sample, eliciting 195 responses, 129 non-responders, and 68 instances of

electronic mail being returned as undeliverable, thereby yielding a response rate of approximately

50% (195/392). The undeliverable group (n = 68) averaged 3.35 positive responses across the

tabulated complaint categories, the responder group (n = 195) averaged 3.25 across the tabulated

complaint categories, and the non-responder group (n = 129) averaged 3.19. Based upon these
reasonably similar values, we have no reason to infer that only more severely impaired subjects

were likely to respond to our request for additional information.

The raw frequencies concerning subjects who reported severe depression and suicidal ideation

due to the effects of their refractive surgery are reported in Table 1, and further divided according

to the surgeon’s judgment of a successful outcome, as reported by the patient. For the group who

experienced suicidal ideation as a result of their refractive surgery (n = 58), 83% (48/58) were

referred to as a success by their refractive surgeon. For the group who experienced severe

depression as a result of their refractive surgery (n = 115), 76% (87/115) were referred to as a

success by their refractive surgeon (while all suicidal subjects are likely to be severely depressed,

not all severely depressed subjects are suicidal).

Table 2 reports various complication categories and the frequencies of psychological

complications and surgeon judgment of success for all patients, and is presented to answer two

questions: (1) Of patients who complain of X as a complication (and for which data on severe

depression and suicidal ideation are available), what percentage admit to having been severely

depressed, or having experienced suicidal ideation, because of the results of their refractive

surgery?; and (2) Of the total patients in the sample who complain of X as a complication, what

percentage are judged a success by their surgeons?” Note that Table 2 does not answer questions

about the relationship between the co-morbidity of complications and the presence of severe

depression and suicidal ideation. Table 2 discloses that the findings are roughly consistent across

all major categories of patient complaints, both for depression and suicidal ideation.

Tables 3 and 4 report subjective complaints of patients experiencing suicidal ideation and severe

depression, specifically confined to LASIK. Since most patients report three or more coded

complications, a given subject can be listed in more than one complaint category.
Discussion

The current study suffers from a number of limitations that should be acknowledged at the outset.

First, the subject sample self-selected into the study, both for the original survey question and for

the subsequent follow-up survey questions. Hence, the authors do not maintain that the sample is

representative of the universe of all refractive surgery outcomes, of all LASIK outcomes, or even

representative of visitors to the Surgical Eyes Foundation web page. Second, no list of

complications was provided that would standardize response options throughout the sample.

Consequently, some subjects described their complications in idiosyncratic or unusual ways that

could not be coded, and therefore, could not be subjected to statistical analysis. Moreover,

although all subjects averaged just over three subjective complaints, there is no guarantee that

descriptions given by any particular subject is complete, or comprehensive. We might argue, for

example, that subjects experiencing extensive co-morbidity of complications are likely to give

descriptive bias to those that salient on a particular day. Third, due to their visual compromise,

some subjects complained that they could not see the print as they were typing, which may have

limited complete responses. Fourth, some subjects are simply more verbal than others, and are

therefore more likely to attempt a complete response, whereas subjects who are less verbal are

likely to express less detail when responding to open ended questions. Fifth, it is possible that

depressed subjects may not have described their visual situation as completely as those who were

not depressed. Poverty of expression is a well known characteristic of depression, sometimes

resulting in depressive pseudodementia in severe cases.5 Sixth, some subjects preferred to

describe their situation in terms of medical terminology (e.g., irregular astigmatism), while others

preferred perceptual-level reports (e.g., ghosting), further decreasing response standardization.

Moreover, it is uncertain whether subjects preferring medical terminology were self-diagnosed,

diagnosed by their eye care provider, and whether each subject was provided with an exhaustive
description of their complications by their provider(s), if at all. Seventh, it is possible that more

severely impaired subjects provided less detail about their condition, in order to minimize the

response burden of the open-ended format.

Keeping the limitations of the data firmly in mind, the results of this study raise many more

questions than they answer, providing fertile ground for further research. Some of these

questions focus narrowly on the internal validity of the present study: Can we be certain, with

regard to Tables 3 and 4, for example, that mesopic/scotopic problems are more or less important

than ghosting in their contribution to suicidal ideation or severe depression? Can we be certain

that other complications are less important than Dry Eye Syndrome as the most frequently

reported complication among patients experiencing suicidal ideation? Our answers to these

questions are “No,” simply because of the lack of reliability inherent in the open-ended response

format. Moreover, it should not be assumed that complications which do not appear in Tables 3

and 4 are not associated with depression or suicidal ideation (i.e. correlations are different from

positive predictive power). Rare complications which are particularly severe when they do occur

can, for example, be expected to show higher positive predictive power for psychological and

emotional trauma (e.g. blindness due to any cause).

While important, such questions are perhaps the most uninteresting aspect of the current study.

Of the 192 subjects responding to our follow-up psychological questions, 115 subjects reported

severe depression while 58 subjects reported suicidal ideation as a result of their refractive

surgical procedure (Table 1). The finding that suicidal ideation and severe depression may be

associated with any complication of refractive surgery is both novel and dramatic, especially

given the elective nature of procedure itself. Of course, we are limited by the fact that we do not

know each patient’s pre-morbid psychiatric status. However, the mere fact that optical correction

(i.e. spectacles) is the time honored alternative to refractive surgery, which is both 100% safe and
readily available, should drastically lower our threshold for accepting severe psychiatric

complications that carry profound morbidity.

Also concerning is the finding that a large percentage of patients were considered a success by

their surgeons, as reported by the patient, and yet were experiencing severe depression and/or

suicidal ideation. While it may seem counterintuitive to the medical community that refractive

surgeons cannot reliably judge success or failure for their own patients, published literature

supports the tenet that physicians’ and patients’ evaluations of surgical results may differ

dramatically, especially when the patient is not satisfied with the outcome.6-9 For example,

following total hip arthroplasty, Lieberman and colleagues reported that physicians’ had

significantly better ratings than the patients themselves in the areas of general heath, walking

ability, pain in the thigh, and improvement in overall quality of life, disclosing the difficulty

physicians’ experience analyzing the outcome of a particular therapeutic intervention

objectively.8 Explanations for the differences between physicians’ and patients’ evaluations may

include: (1) physicians and patients may have different expectations after an operative

procedure, (2) physicians and patients may have a different definition of what constitutes an

excellent outcome, (3) patients may not communicate their problems clearly for fear of

disappointing the physician, (4) the physician may not comprehend the true nature of the

patient’s problems and/or dissatisfaction, and/or (5) the patient’s assessment of the procedure

may be influenced by the quality of the doctor-patient relationship.8 Based upon these data, and

our striking psychiatric morbidity findings, it is clear that physicians’ and patients’ may evaluate

a given outcome from markedly different perspectives, further substantiating the need for

validated quality of life survey instruments when scientifically evaluating refractive surgery

outcomes. Although Snellen vision scores were not included as a dependent variable in the

current study, we can speculate that Snellen scores may be partially responsible for the

discrepancy between patient and provider judgment of success, given that loss of Snellen BSCVA
has been generally accepted as a primary safety marker among the refractive surgery industry,

and refractive surgeons. Clearly, Snellen visual acuity cannot describe the totality of patients’

subjective visual function. In agreement with prior investigators,6-9 our findings support the

inclusion of patient generated quality of life data when validating refractive surgical procedures.

Further research is warranted in order to better define rates of various visual complications from a

patient’s perspective, both in terms of overall quality of life and quality of vision. Specifically,

the co-morbidity of visual complications requires detailed investigation since many subjects in

our cohort reported the simultaneous existence of seemingly disparate visual complaints, and it is

not known how various complications interact to yield an increased risk of psychiatric morbidity.

Clearly, the finding that suicidal ideation and/or severe depression may occur in association with

a refractive surgical procedure warrants further comprehensive investigation to better determine

incidence and prevalence figures. To this end, we wholeheartedly endorse the use of validated

quality of life survey instruments, both preoperatively and postoperatively, to better assess patient

outcomes following refractive surgical procedures.


References

1. Waring GO, Lynn MJ, Culbertson W, Laibson PR, Lindstrom RD, McDonald MB, Myers

WD, Obstbaum SA, Rowsey JJ, Schanzlin DJ, The PERK Study Group. Three-year results of the

Prospective Evaluation of Radial Keratotomy (PERK ) study. Ophthalmology 1987;94:1339-

1354.

2. Vitale S, Schein OD, Meinert CL, Steinberg EP. The Refractive Status and Vision Profile. A

questionnaire to measure vision-related quality of life in persons with refractive error.

Ophthalmology 2000;107:1529-39.

3. Schein OD, Vitale S, Cassard SD, Steinberg EP. Patient outcomes of refractive surgery. The

Refractive Status and Vision Profile. J Cataract Refract Surg 2001;27:665-73.

4. McLeod SD. Beyond Snellen acuity. The assessment of visual function after refractive

surgery. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001;119:1371-73.

5. Gregory, RJ. Adult Intellectual Assessment. 1987; p. 11 Allyn & Bacon, Inc: Boston

6. Haworth RJ, Hopkins J, Ells P, Ackroyd CE, Mowat AG. Expectations and outcome of total

hip replacement. Rheumat Rehab 1981;20:65-70.

7. Jachuck SJ, Brierley H, Jachuck S, Willcox PM. The effect of hypotensive drugs on the

quality of life. J Roy Coll Gen Pract 1982;32:103-105.

8. Slevin ML, Plant H, Lynch D, Drinkwater J, Gregory WM. Who should measure quality of

life, the doctor or the patient? British J. Cancer 1988;57:109-112.

9. Lieberman JR, Dorey F, Shekelle, P, Schumacher L, Thomas BJ, Kilgus DJ, Finerman GA.

Differences between patients’ and physicians’ evaluations of outcome after total hip arthroplasty.

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 1996;78-A:835-838.


Table 1. Association of Severe Depression and Suicidal Ideation with Surgeon Outcome

Judgment.*

Severely Suicidal Ideation

Depressed
Surgeon No Yes No Yes

Judgment
Not a Success 29 28 47 10

A Success 50 87 89 48

* P < .001, 2-Tailed (Chi Square)


Table 2. Crosstabs of Complications by Psychological Issues and Surgeon Judgment

Severely Suicidal Ideation Judged a

Depressed Success?
Yes No Yes No Yes No
Dry Eye 36 18 23 31 40 14

(67%) (33%) (43%) (57%) (74%) (26%)


Loss of Contrast 20 11 8 23 27 4

(65%) (35%) (26%) (74%) (87%) (13%)


Night Vision 44 37 20 61 64 17

(54%) (46%) (25%) (75%) (79%) (21%)


Haloes 28 17 14 31 33 12

(62%) (38%) (31%) (69%) (73%) (27%)


Ghosting 39 25 18 46 51 13

(61%) (39%) (28%) (72%) (80%) (20%)


Starbursts 38 22 21 39 46 13

(63%) (37%) (35%) (65%) (77%) (22%)


Polyopia 21 8 10 19 16 13

(72%) (28%) (34%) (66%) (55%) (45%)


Glare 15 9 8 16 16 8

(62%) (38%) (33%) (67%) (67%) (33%)


Fluctuating 14 8 10 12 17 5

Vision (64%) (36%) (45%) (55%) (77%) (23%)


Blurred Vision 20 8 9 19 18 10

(71%) (29%) (32%) (68%) (64%) (36%)


Table 3. The Ten Most Frequent Complications of LASIK Patients with Suicidal

Ideation (n=46).

Subjects Complication
22 Dry Eye Problems
18 Mesopic/Scotopic Problems*
17 Starbursts
13 Ghosting
12 Halos
10 Polyopia and Double Vision
10 Astigmatism†
9 Blurred Vision
7 Fluctuating Vision
6 Loss of Contrast
* Includes all night vision and dim light problems.

† Includes regular, irregular, residual, and induced.


Table 4. The Ten Most Frequent Complications of Severely Depressed LASIK Patients (never

suicidally depressed due to result; n = 45)

Subjects Complication
18 Mesopic/Scotopic Problems*
16 Ghosting
11 Dry Eye
11 Starbursts
9 Loss of Contrast
9 Halos
9 Polyopia and Double Vision
8 Astigmatism†
7 Overcorrected
5 Headaches
* Includes all night vision and dim light problems, complaints were scored as mesopic or

scotopic in nature only where patients explicitly stated such a problem. Thus, patients could be

scored for ghosting and starbursting, without mentioning night vision issues.

† Includes regular, irregular, residual, and induced.