LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain's career


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LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

The Arizona Daily Star

Friday May 10 06:18 AM EDT
Damaging eye surgery brings $4M

2001 Star photo
Steve Post, 35, of Sierra Vista, lost his job - and his career - after LASIK surgery destroyed his night vision. He had become a United Airlines (news - web sites) 737 captain about 10 years ahead of most pilots.

UA case yields biggest LASIK verdict ever

A former airline pilot who lost his job after undergoing LASIK eye surgery at a UA clinic was awarded a record $4 million in a unanimous jury verdict Thursday.

It is the largest award ever given in this country for damage done by the extremely popular, elective surgery to correct common vision problems.

The amount - more than double the previous LASIK damage record - was given to Steve Post, 35, of Sierra Vista. He was grounded by United Airlines a year ago, after LASIK surgery destroyed his night vision, leaving him unfit to fly for any major commercial airline.

Post had flown for United since 1991 and had risen to the rank of captain of the 737 jet about 10 years ahead of most pilots.

His surgery was performed in May 2000 at The LASIK Center in Tucson, affiliated with the University of Arizona, to correct nearsightedness and allow him to function without glasses or contacts.

"The bottom line is that no matter what the amount of the money, my career basically is gone and no jury award will bring it back," Post said shortly after yesterday's verdict in Pima County Superior Court.

"So I think this is a good point for me to go on with the rest of my life. No matter how small or large the award, I was just happy to have the jury validate what I did accomplish in my career, and that what happened to end it was not right."

After coming into widespread use by the late '90s, LASIK surgery - technically known as Laser-Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis - has exploded in popularity, making it the most common elective surgery in the United States, surpassing even high-demand cosmetic surgery such as breast implants and fat suction.

About half of all Americans suffer the vision problems - nearsightedness and farsightedness - that LASIK can correct, enabling people to chuck their glasses and other vision aids (news - web sites). That's why nearly 2 million are expected to demand it this year.

An elective procedure - not considered "medically necessary" - LASIK is not covered by insurance, so patients pay out-of-pocket for it, at about $1,000 to $2,000 an eye. LASIK requires only 10 to 15 minutes of a surgeon's time, and has developed into a major money-maker for doctors and clinics, triggering intense competition for a high volume of patients.

Those high-profit dynamics are blamed by critics for a creeping number of bad outcomes - up to 5 percent of all patients - and about 200 LASIK-related lawsuits now working their way through U.S. courts.

Post is typical of many LASIK patients who suffer damage not because the surgery itself was botched, but because they were improperly screened and accepted as candidates, according to testimony in the case.

Post's attorneys - Robert Beal, Ted Schmidt and Michael Redhair - argued that the UA's LASIK team failed to accurately measure the size of his pupils in dim light. Patients with pupils that are especially large under those conditions are considered poor candidates for LASIK, because they often emerge from the surgery with damaged night vision, as Post did.

"I think the jury was very definitely trying to send a message that it's important for LASIK centers to properly train and supervise those who are doing the preoperative screening," said Schmidt.

"That's the single most important area where problems can be prevented."

Schmidt acknowledged that the surgery itself, done by UA chief of ophthalmology Dr. Robert Snyder, was "superb."

"The problem is, they should have never done it in the first place on Steve - he was not a proper candidate. And because of his occupation - which required him to fly planes at night - he should have had a very specialized screening. But they didn't even consider that," he said.

Attorneys for the defendants - the UA LASIK team and University Physicians Inc., the nonprofit doctors group at the UA College of Medicine - have not decided if they will appeal.

"Of course, we're disappointed with this verdict," said Jeff Campbell, who represented University Physicians. "I think UPI met the standard of care for this procedure in this region.

"And Steve Post was aware of the risks involved in LASIK, the possible outcomes were known to him and he elected to go ahead with it. Yes, we are disappointed, but this kind of thing can happen with a jury verdict."

During the trial, which began April 23, the eye surgeon, Snyder, argued that the preoperative pupil measurement was not related to the postoperative night vision damage, Campbell said.

"What happened was due to spherical aberrations in the eyes, that can be increased by the LASIK procedure," he said. "Every patient has some degree of aberration, but there is no way to know in advance how significantly it will be increased by LASIK. That differs in every patient."

Campbell described Snyder as a "very conservative" LASIK surgeon, who will not operate on a patient whose pupils are larger than the area to be ablated by the laser.

The $4 million awarded to Post was based on losing his high-paying career at such a young age and on the possible cost of future surgery to correct his vision damage, said his attorneys. Such surgery has not yet been approved in the United States and might not be available for three to five years.

"To be honest, the thought of undergoing another eye surgery doesn't seem like a very good idea to me right now," Post said.

In the past year, Post has radically changed his life - volunteering to work with troubled teens at the Cochise County Children's Center, where he is now employed as a behavioral health worker. He also volunteers as a court-appointed special advocate for youth and has trained his dogs to provide pet therapy for nursing home patients.

He said he plans to use some of his award to improve conditions and programs for neglected children in Southern Arizona.

Before yesterday's Tucson jury verdict, the largest award ever made to a LASIK patient was $1.7 million, to a 38-year-old Kentucky woman in November, after four flawed LASIK surgeries forced her to undergo a corneal transplant to restore vision in one eye.

The year before, a Buffalo, N.Y., man was awarded $1.2 million after his eye was lacerated by the laser, leaving him nearly blind without corrective lenses.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

Well, forget that. I was consdiering doing a LASIK surgery possibly in college to correct my need for contacts. After reading this I think I'll not take the risk and stick with glasses/contacts!

Thanks Doug!
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

LASIK has always made me a little nervous. My mom had it, and it turned out ok.

However, I would think if you don't NEED it, don't get it.

Case and vision without correction is almost 20/400...mostly due to bad astigmatism. I wear contacts, but every doctor I've been to in my life has said that I will never see 20/20 in each eye in contacts.

Well...I found a GREAT doctor...and she had me seeing 20/20 in each eye with contacts...and I see 20/15 with both eyes together.

Point is this...even if you have eyes as bad as mine, if you find a good doctor...course you have to be willing to pay a little more...he or she can get your eyesight able to pass a Class 1 medical with no trouble. Now if I could just get this heart rate thing to settle down...I'll be all set! /ubbthreads/images/icons/smile.gif
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

I would like the name & location of the doctor. I have been to several doctors in a few cities that cannot find the right contacts for me or suggest LASIK.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

Let me share something with you all. I had eye surgery 6 months ago. First of all it hurts really bad, second you have to sit in the dark and do nothing for a week or two, third it hurts, forth you do not want to mess with you eyes. They are so sensitive and complex, LASIK is a horible mistake, so manny people have had bad LASIK experiances. It has no reliable history. You eyes are the sense you do not want to lose so suck it up and wear the glasses. LASIK can and will ruin your carrer and make your life harder.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

I had LASIK done about a year ago but I was very careful who I let touch my eyes.

The doctor who did it was recommended by another doctor friend of mine. He assured me that this guy knew what the heck he was doing. (In fact the eye doctor performed LASIK on this other doctor and it turned out great).

I questioned the eye doctor about his experience. Prior to touching a human eye he went through a fellowship for about a year observing/assisting with LASIK surgeries. Next, he did about 200 LASIK procedures on rabbits. (Don't ask me how you give a rabbit an eye test - I'm a pilot, not a doctor).

The procedure itself was not what I would call an enjoyable experience. Although there was no real "pain", it was sort of like having to stare into a very bright light without blinking. The discomfort, however, was brief enough that it should not be a reason to avoid LASIK.

After the operation my eyes were sensitive for a couple of days. However, I was seeing fine the very next day. In fact, I flew myself to my appointment (I was in Ft. Pierce at the time and the operation was done in Tampa) and flew myself home less than 24 hours after the operation. (And yes, I did have a safety pilot).

After the procedure you will be sensitive to bright lights at night. It won't keep you from driving/flying but you do have a little "star" or "halo" effect from approaching headlights. This goes away after a few months.

Overall, I'm very happy with the results.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

I was nervous about "ANY" laser surgery on eyes. And i was going to ask about it now i know i shouldnt get it until even the glasses i wear wont help me see good.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

That was the story I was given from my Optometrist when I asked him about the risks of lasik surgery...

I think I'll just stick with the contacts...
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

I'm probably going to do the PRK thing with the navy when i turn 21... pluse it's goingt o be free !!!

I talke to my AME.. and he did some reasearch on the issue for me.. he called me back and told me the PRK was accptable by the FAA as long as you can see 20/20 after the surgury... your not alowed to see better than 20/20 either..

He trold me the the Lasik visoon surgery was not okay with thee FAA and t hat it is a possible disqualifieir for a medical certificate !!! .. he continued talking and then he said it was an automatic disqulifier for the First class medical !!!...
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

I had LASIK surgery about a year ago. Before the procedure I spoke with the surgeon and the career counselor at Pan Am Flight Academy regarding the airlines' attitudes toward the procedure. My surgeon said that he actually performed LASIK on airline pilots and the career counselor said that she knew of no airlines that disqaulified applicants because of LASIK. had an article on the subject (
In it I read that, "The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1993 forced most airline medical departments to drop their hiring prohibition against pilots with the old refractive procedure RK. LASIK is a superior procedure to RK and people who have undergone LASIK should have the same legal protection as those who have had RK. At least one major carrier does not hire pilots who have had refractive eye surgery in the previous six months. In general, the United States military does not allow pilots to fly who have had laser vision correction, and LVC can be adisqualifying for FCI/IA/II/III." This leads me to believe that the only organization that prohibits LASIK is the military.

I'm wondering if your doctor was referring to the military when he stated that LASIK was an "automatic disqualifier". I hope so ... or I just wasted a whole lot of money.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

Turtle, what was your uncorrected vision prior to the LASIK surgery?

I have considered it; however, since my vision is about 20/30 uncorrected it is just more of a nuisance and not a real problem. It would truly be nice to not have to battle putting contacts into my sleep filled, half opened eyes in the morning when I’m already running late!

I just don't know if 20/30 is justification enough for the risk involved...
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career


Prior to LASIK my vision was 20/100 in one eye and 20/200 in the other.

Let me put that in proper perspective for you. You know that great big " E " at the top of the eye chart? Well, that was just a large blur for me (even in my "good" eye, LOL).

I had been wearing glasses for 25 years and I was just sick of it. Plus the fact that I was so helpless without them. Couldn't drive, fly, or even recognize people more than 5 paces away.

By the way, I checked it out and LASIK is by no means a disqualifier to airline employment.

Hope that helps.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

Wow! That's pretty bad..

I'm glad to hear it worked out well for you!
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

Scorp...the doc who told you that LASIK is dq for 1st class is wrong. I hold a first and I had LASIK in '00. Vision is 20/15 without any deficits.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

Haven't any of you heard of the following type of contact lense (I don't know the name but I'll find out soon):
You put them on before you go to bed, take them off in the morning and what they do is literally re-shape your eyes during the night. Their solid contact lenses of course. My friend has them and for the first 20 minutes that he takes them of he has far-sighted vision but then it goes away after 20 mins and he's 20/20 for three days. So you just have to wear them every three nights. Thats not bad...but its expensive, $1500 CDN (divide that by 1.6 for US). For that price you get 1 or 2 pairs that will last you a year, and when you run out you have to pay about $350 CDN each year for a new pair. I don't know whether or not this technology has been accepted by airlines or not. I should also mention that, well obviously, its a relatively new technology. There's only 1 optometrist in my city (population of 900000) that offers it.

I'll probably take a look at them when my training conmences...
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

That's interesting...

I'm not sure if it has made it to the U.S. yet, but I'm sure it will be popular once it does...

There’s nothing worse than a contact falling out at the wrong time...
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career's here. And actually it is an old procedure.

It is call Ortho-Keratology.

Basically, it's just braces for your eyes.

These lenses are really just hard contact lenses that have a slightly larger radius than the curvature of your eye (assuming you're nearsighted). And, yes after wearing them for awhile you get better vision temporarily. Whether you can achieve 20/20 or not depends on how bad you are now.

The drawback to this is that it is not a permanent solution. When you stop wearing them, your eyes go back.

As I recall, a lot of military guys use this procedure to pass the vision screen for their respective services since once your in and through training you can get corrective lenses (they've already shelled out the millions to train you).

For the airlines, there is really no point. Most of them only require that you have a 1st class medical and don't even specify a vision requirement other than CORRECTED TO 20/20 which is the same as the 1st class medical.

I'm sure there is a ton of literature on OrthoK out on the web if you want more info.
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

Thanks for clearing that up Scott.

I'm obviously a little behind in the world of optometry!
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

You got me listening about the military part...although Canada only has 126 F-18s, 86 of which are in service, I'd love to fly for the Canadian Armed Forces. My one concern is wouldn't you run the risk of getting arrested? Would that fall under giving false information the authorities? Deception? Theres bound to be some kind of law for that. These pilots don't get in trouble at all? Their not forced to take another position with the Air Force?

just a few questions
Re: LASIK Surgery Ends UAL 737 Captain\'s career

I think you would need to look at what the requirements are for flying in the Canadian military.

Here in the U.S., at least back in the early 90's, you pretty much had to have 20/20 or you were simply screened out. I know there may have been exceptions to this in some services and under some circumstances, though, but if you didn't fit into one of those categories, you simply had no chance.

So, that leaves you with kind of a moral dilemma. (Do I just give up? or go get this ortho-k which is basically undetectable and pursue my dream?)

The reason so many were using it is because it is NOT surgery, therefore, no scar tissue on your cornea to detect.

As far as getting arrested for providing false info? I haven't ever heard of it. But, then again, I have also never heard of anyone just up and admitting that they had orhoK and lied on their application paperwork. Yes, I think they do specifically ask you about this, so theoretically you could get busted. Again, it depends on the service.

Really, it's your decision to make as to whether you want to risk it and accept the moral implications.