New London Family Medical Center Offers Cataract Surgery

July 1, 2011

Ophthalmologist Performs State-of-the-Art Eye Surgery Close to Home

Like many people his age, Don Berglund began to notice that his vision wasn’t what it used to be. His eyesight had gradually become blurrier.

“In the last year or two, I noticed a decrease in my ability to see, especially at night,” said Berglund, 61, of New London. “My vision, overall, was getting poorer.”

A trip to the optometrist confirmed that Berglund had cataracts. A cataract, caused by the natural aging process, is a gradual clouding of the eye’s lens. It is caused by proteins in the eye that begin to clump together, resulting in dull or blurry vision.

To Berglund’s relief, the remedy was simpler and more convenient than he expected. In June, he underwent cataract surgery for each eye – scheduled two weeks apart – at New London Family Medical Center. Michael Vrabec, an ophthalmologist with Valley Eye Associates of Appleton, visits NLFMC twice a month to perform eye surgeries.

“Dr. Vrabec has done a million of these surgeries, and it’s great that we have this facility where he can come do this,” said Berglund, a retired detective who worked for the Waupaca Sheriff’s Department for 30 years. “I don’t think I was in the operating room but 20 minutes.”

Dr. Vrabec, who has actually performed some 20,000 cataract surgeries to date, says the surgery, which years ago required general anesthesia and a hospital stay, is now an outpatient, minimally invasive surgery with a 99 percent success rate.

The surgery involves making a small incision in the eye and a technique called “phacoemulsification,” which breaks up the cloudy lens into small particles, which are then removed by suction. A new, artificial lens is inserted into the eye, restoring clear vision. No stitches are required in most cases.

Patients are typically given a topical anesthetic with light IV sedation, and remember little about the surgery.

“The small incision is what allows for the rapid recovery,” Dr. Vrabec said. “The recovery simply involves the use of eye drops for several weeks and patients can get back to most of their usual activities within days.”

Lens implants are permanent, last the life of the patient, and typically do not need to be replaced. Cataract surgery is usually covered by health insurance and Medicare. The federal government spends about $3.4 billion a year on cataract surgery, the most commonly performed ophthalmic procedure.

As millions of baby boomers now approach retirement age, the numbers are only expected to grow. More than 50 percent of people over the age of 60 suffer from cataracts.

“The number of cataract surgeries performed is going up and that reflects the aging population,” Dr. Vrabec said. “We are seeing the trend locally, statewide and nationally,”

Dr. Vrabec, who has been serving NLFMC for nearly 10 years, performs about two dozen cataract surgeries there each month.

“It’s a well-oiled machine and over the years we’ve really fine tuned and perfected the system of care in New London,” Dr. Vrabec said. “Each surgery – from the time the patient arrives at the hospital until they go home – lasts about 2 ½ hours. But the actual surgery is only 15 to 20 minutes.”

Berglund, who now drives a food van for the New London School District, is excited to be back doing the things he loves in a bright, clear world.

“I’m glad I was able to catch my cataracts early,” he said. “My vision is so much clearer now.”