Failed LASIK Surgery - Complications, Depression, Suicide

Lasik Depression

The benefits of LASIK are obvious, and heavily advertised. Clear vision without the burden of glasses or contact lenses! Who wouldn't want that? What you don't always hear about are the potential side-effects and complications. Like any surgery, LASIK has serious risks. Complications can greatly impact your quality of life after surgery.

Many people discount these risks and think, "that won't happen to me." After all, some studies have shown the rate of complications with LASIK to be as low as 1% or less. It's easy to believe that the odds are in your favor, that you won't be that one person out of a hundred who will have serious side-effects. But at the same time, it's easy for so many to envision themselves as that one person in a million who wins the lottery.

Physically: what can go wrong?
LASIK is a complicated procedure on a very sensitive part of the body, and there are many different things that can go wrong. Some potential complications include:

Over and under correction, regression, induced astigmatism - The majority of patients who have LASIK will walk away with vision that is 20/20 or better, but it is not uncommon for a patient's vision to be corrected too much or too little. It is also possible for the patient to have good vision immediately following surgery, but experience blurriness later as the eye changes shape during the healing process (regression). If the cornea becomes irregularly shaped as a result of LASIK surgery, the result can be astigmatism.

Sometimes these problems can be fixed with a second LASIK surgery, a process often referred to as an "enhancement" by surgeons. Sometimes however, the patient may be ineligible for a second surgery, for example, because their corneas have become too thin. If this is the case, glasses or contact lenses may be needed after surgery.

Dry eye - this is a very common side effect after LASIK surgery. For most patients, dry eye is only temporary and can be treated with artificial tears, but it can occasionally be permanent and more severe, causing a great deal of pain and discomfort.

Higher order aberrations - imperfections in the corneal surface can cause a variety of vision defects including starbursts, halos, ghosting, multiple images, and loss of contrast sensitivity. Some people with these problems can be helped with rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses, but if the patient is also suffering from dry eye, they may be unable to tolerate lenses in their eyes.

Corneal ectasia - If too much tissue is removed during surgery, or the flap is cut too deep, the structure of the cornea can become weak, and the eye will bulge out. This is not just cosmetically unappealing; it also causes serious vision problems which cannot be corrected with glasses, soft contact lenses, or additional LASIK surgery. Some patients can be helped with rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses, but most will require a corneal transplant.

The emotional impact: depression and suicide
Depression is a common and understandable reaction to many serious medical conditions, including vision loss. But most of the time, these conditions are beyond the patient's control. Not so with LASIK.

When LASIK surgery goes wrong, the patient has to face the fact that they did not just lose their sight, they actually asked someone, paid someone, to take it. And with that knowledge comes a layer of regret and self-hatred on top of the depression. These feelings, combined with the pain and vision problems the patient is experiencing, can even make some consider suicide.

In April 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held an open public hearing where LASIK patients and their loved ones could speak about the negative affects the surgery has had on their lives. One man who spoke up was Gerry Dorrian. His son, Colin, committed suicide 6 years after his LASIK surgery left him with severe, painful dry eye as well as vision problems including starbursts, halos, ghosting, triple images, and loss of contrast sensitivity. Below is an excerpt from Colin's suicide note, so you can hear how he felt in his own words:

If I can't get my eyes fixed, I'm going to kill myself. At the time of this writing, I've lived for six and a half years like this, and it drives me more and more crazy every single day. For a while, I coped fairly well, and have gone forward with things I had to do, but this problem has kept me from enjoying life the way I used to. Every single thing I look at, more or less throughout the entire day, looks ugly and confusing to me.

I just cannot accept the fact that I'm supposed to live like this. It may not make much sense to someone who's not experienced these symptoms, but I'm rotting from the inside out. I have other problems like most people do, in fact I might tend towards the depressive side naturally, who knows. But this is something else. As soon as my eyes went bad, I fell into a deeper depression than I'd ever experienced, and I never really came out. I could get down about things before, but I always had my health to rely on. Without that, just getting by is not enough.

I can't continue living without my responsibility, my esteem, and my happiness. There's nothing at all ennobling or enlightening about suffering. The more I live with this problem, the more it will warp me, and the more hateful and bitter I'll become. I refuse to picture myself starting a family that I won't be able to enjoy and love, because one mistake has so damaged me mentally and physically.

The importance of realistic expectations
The most important thing you can do if you are considering LASIK is make sure that you are going into the procedure with realistic expectations. If you will not be satisfied with anything less than perfect vision, the procedure is probably not right for you.

It is also important to keep in mind that your eyes will continue to change as you age, especially if you are under the age of 40. Even with LASIK surgery, sometime between 40-50 years of age you will begin to develop presbyopia and will require glasses for reading and other close work.

Speak with your eye doctor and surgeon to find out more about the risks and potential complications of LASIK surgery. Your eye care professionals can help you determine if you are a good candidate.

Learn more about serious LASIK complications, depression and suicide on our forums!


The last dr I went to fitted me with expensive glasses that I can't use