Dr. Paul Doughtery carefully makes a 3-millimeter slit near the edge of the cornea of Rod Barshook's right eye and slides a rolled-up contact lens between the iris and the eye's own lens. After the lens unrolls itself, he gently tucks the edges under the iris. A few minutes later another contact is implanted in the other eye.
Less than a half hour later, Barshook sits in a reclining chair at Doughtery's Larchmont Village medical offices; his eyes are still a little blurry from the local anesthetic but he is able to read the clock on the opposite wall without the Coke bottle glasses he's worn most of his life.
"I'm pretty excited," he exclaims about the lens, manufactured by Monrovia-based Staar Surgical Co.
It's that "wow factor," as well as positive word-of-mouth and the enthusiasm of ophthalmologists like Doughtery, that Staar is counting on as the cornerstones of the marketing plan for its long-awaited, Visian ICL implantable contact lens.
"I knew this lens was the future," said Doughtery, who has been working with the lens since 1999 when he and handful of other surgeons traveled to Mexico to perform implantations as part of their training. "I knew the limitations of Lasik for people with higher levels of myopia. The further you push Lasik, the less accurate it is. We needed an alternative."
It's been slightly more than three months since U.S. regulators finally approved the ICL, which was already available in 41 other countries. Only a fraction of the U.S. surgeons who have received initial training are now certified to implant the device, and even those who can are only now beginning to receive brochures to distribute to patients.
The small Monrovia-based company employs only seven proctors to oversee the five monitored operations that surgeons have to perform before the company will supply them the lens. The company expects to have only 500 of nearly 1,000 eligible surgeons certified by the end of the year. But management believes the roll-out is going just fine.
"It sounds like a crazy situation but it's not really," said Chief Executive David Bailey, who followed a similar strategy when introducing Lasik eye surgery in Europe for another company in the mid-1990s. "A slow, steady ramp-up gives you solid outcomes and happy patients from which you can build the marketing. It's worth it to us in the long run to wait."
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