Loyal viewers of Detroit’s WJBK Fox 2 television station were stunned on Dec. 13 to learn that popular meteorologist Jessica Starr had died of suicide. The 35-year-old mom of two, described by colleagues as “bright and bubbly,” had admitted to “struggling” with persistent dry eye after undergoing LASIK eye surgery in mid-October.
She took about a month off from work following the procedure, returning on Nov. 13.
“This is a hard go,” Starr told friends and fans in a Facebook Live video on her first day back. “I’m trying to stay strong and get through this recovery.”
While the reasons for her suicide remain unknown, Starr’s story has sparked questions about the risks involved with LASIK surgery, a laser procedure meant to minimize or eliminate the need for corrective glasses or contact lenses.
More than 700,000 Americans undergo the elective surgery each year, which takes about five minutes per eye and costs on average around $2,200 for each one. And while more than 95 percent of patients say they’re satisfied with the results, others report suffering painful and disruptive complications, including dry eye, double vision and halos.
“For the patients who have pain, it’s absolutely a condition that requires treatment and attention,” says Dr. John Vukich, chair of the Refractive Surgery Clinical Committee for the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. “But the risk of [winding up with chronic pain] is very low.”
To avoid any complications, the FDA recommends talking to your doctor about whether LASIK is right for you — and fully assessing the potential risks. Anyone considering LASIK should go in for a consultation before surgery, where doctors can examine their eyes for any corneal conditions that could lead to problems post-op.
“There are patients who are turned away — as many as 10 to 20 percent of patients may have some corneal finding or some other condition that would make them a less-than-ideal candidate, but most patients are counseled and redirected to some other way to correct their vision,” Vukich says. “It is important to look for corneal irregularity, and we look for significant, preexisting dry eye conditions. We look for any evidence of a condition that would suggest that LASIK either wouldn’t be well tolerated or as predictable as it may be.”
But for those that do experience problems like persistent dry eye and vision aberrations following surgery, it can be frustrating and could exacerbate feelings of depression. It’s unknown whether Starr’s post-LASIK experience is what led to her suicide, but there are advocacy groups who say that there is a significant risk. LASIK Complications, a website and Facebook group of over 6,000 people who say they are dealing with problems for years after their surgery, claim that two people took their lives due to LASIK pain.
Complaints over LASIK led to an FDA panel in 2008, and a 2017 survey of over 500 patients about their experience before and at three and six months after surgery. The results were not a surprise to the FDA — just 2 percent of patients reported complications. Vukich says it’s important to know that for those who are experiencing problems after surgery, it will improve.
“We know that for [most] individuals who have dry eye and other conditions, it almost always gets better within three to six months,” says Vukich, adding, “There are going to be very rare cases of individuals who may have difficulty that can be attributed to the surgery, but I think that’s true of any kind of procedure.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.