Coleraine man has sight like a 'fighter pilot' after undergoing a new optical laser eye treatment in Northern Ireland
Coleraine man Colin Coleman, who was the first person to undergo a new optical laser treatment in Northern Ireland, talks to Stephanie Bell about how the procedure has transformed his love of sports
Anew state-of-the-art laser eye technology which promises a virtually pain-free procedure is now available in Northern Ireland for the first time.
Cathedral Eye Clinic is the only company on the island of Ireland to offer the new VisuMax procedure, which is a keyhole style laser treatment with more rapid recovery time.
The technology is part of the £2m investment by the company, which has also seen the completion of a brand new clinic on Academy Street in Belfast, which opened in recent weeks.
In the first three weeks of introducing the sophisticated new technology, 20 people have undergone the procedure and another 100 are expected to benefit before the end of the year.
The VisuMax SMILE, short for Small Incision Lenticule Extraction, is regarded as one of the most exclusive laser eye procedures available in the United Kingdom.
It is also reputed to be the safest solution for people who want to correct their vision and be free of glasses or contact lenses.
The procedure is minimally invasive and combines many of the advantages of previous generations of laser eye surgery.
Among its claimed benefits is a reduction in the chances of dry eye and other post-surgical effects. The overall treatment is gentle and patients normally will be fully recovered within just one to two days.
Coleraine man Colin Coleman (32), who runs his own physiotherapy practice - Causeway Physio, was the first person to benefit from the revolutionary procedure.
Colin, who had the procedure carried out by Cathedral Eye Clinic's clinical director, Professor Johnny Moore, had been put off laser surgery in the past because of reports that it could be painful.
He had suffered from short sightedness and astigmatism, which is a condition that can cause blurred vision.
A keen sportsman who enjoys kayak surfing, swimming and triathlon races, there were obvious benefits for Colin in being able to enjoy his hobbies without wearing glasses.
Since having the procedure done three weeks ago, he describes the improvement in his sight as "drastic" and the changes to his life "amazing".
"I have been told that I now have vision up to fighter pilot standard and it has meant that I am able now to fully enjoy the outdoors without glasses or contact lenses," he says.
Colin, who is married to Joanne and has two children, Rachel (4) and Ben (19 months), adds: "I had been told that laser eye surgery was not an option for me because of the astigmatism, which makes it a bit more complicated apparently for run-of-the-mill treatment.
"Also, a few people had mentioned that it was quite painful, so I just settled into wearing my glasses and was happy to leave it
"When I heard this new treatment was virtually pain free, I decided I would try it and yes, when I had it done, it was pretty much as described - I didn't feel a thing.
"I had the surgery on a Wednesday and was back to work on Friday, which was also pretty amazing and there were no niggles or complications and my vision is perfect."
After a lifetime of wearing glasses, Colin still finds it a surprise a month on that he is able to see without putting his glasses on.
While he has noticed a dramatic difference in his day-to-day life, it is in his sport where he is really enjoying the benefits.
He can't believe the difference it has made to his hobbies.
Living near the coast and spending a lot of his spare time in the water, he says the surgery has proved to be a real boost to his lifestyle.
"When I was swimming in the sea, I used to have to pick a landmark or giant structure to swim towards as that was the only thing I could see on the horizon," he says.
"It is fantastic now being out in the sea and suddenly being able to see everything and appreciate the beauty of the landscape and surrounding area; just to see nature in its glory is wonderful. It is also a lot safer for me, too."
He is delighted with even the small differences it makes to his life. "I remember the first time I went swimming in the pool after surgery, I could see the clock on the wall," he says.
"That was a bonus as I could now keep an eye on the clock and enjoy my swim, knowing what time I needed to get out of the pool and get back to work."
Colin paid £3,500 to have his vision corrected and the benefits have transformed the quality of his life.
"Cathedral Eye Clinic has a reputation of being a first-class facility and for me to have something that could possibly change my life, and get it done by the best people, it was worth every penny. It has been priceless," he adds.
Professor Moore is delighted by his first client's experience. "Colin's eyes responded very well to the surgery and his vision is now up to fighter pilot standard," he says.
Professor Moore, whose surgical prowess and standing in the ophthalmic community is well known, explains why he had decided to bring the new technology to Northern Ireland.
At the opening of his new state-of-the-art clinic, he said: "The aim of the new clinic is to provide the pinnacle of ophthalmic care within the island of Ireland by providing unparalleled expertise and an extensive range of eye treatments."
And so, how does it work? "Firstly, there is no corneal flap created with the SMILE procedure," says Professor Moore.
"The whole procedure is done on one laser. The cornea maintains greater tensile strength and there is no worry about the flap moving or dislodging.
"This is especially relevant for those with higher prescriptions or thinner corneas.
"This means that should you have been deemed unsuitable for Lasik treatment, you may be suitable for corrective eye surgery with SMILE.
"Thirdly, the majority of corneal nerves are left intact unlike the Lasik procedure of previous generations.
"This means that you are less likely to suffer from post-operative dry eyes and other associated complications."
Professor Moore said the difference to other laser eye procedures is "considerable" and stresses the importance of patient safety.
"To my mind, it is more stable than its predecessor, Lasik," he adds.
"As there is no flap, it is also less traumatic to the cornea. The overall treatment is gentle and visual recovery is fast.
"This is also advantageous to sports enthusiasts, as the cornea is more stable and the procedure has a faster recovery time than PRK.
"SMILE has been successfully performed on more than 190,000 eyes and has become an established laser vision procedure for the correction of myopia."