Relief is in sight. Thanks to an increase in the number of ophthalmologists, patients needing certain types of eye-related surgeries can receive their care at Martin Army Community Hospital.
That’s the message CPT Jennifer Cartwright wants to get across to a number of Tricare beneficiaries.
“With three ophthalmologists, we have increased our ability to see more patients,” Cartwright said. “Previously, patients over 65 would have been referred out, but now, we can definitely see them.”
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in eye and vision care and are trained in medical and surgical treatment of eye conditions and diseases. Army ophthalmologists, military occupation specialty 60S, are either doctors of medicine or doctors of osteopathy who have completed a graduate medical education internship.
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At MACH, Cartwright said the ophthalmologists are performing a variety of surgical procedures, including refractive eye surgeries for active-duty Soldiers and cataract surgeries. It’s the cataract surgery capability she wants to promote.
Cartwright has placed informational posters in several areas of the hospital in order to educate patients about the condition. In basic terms, a cataract is a painless clouding of the lens of the eye, which can impair vision. Although generally associated with aging, cataracts can also be found in patients who have had eye injuries, long-term exposure to sunlight, diabetes, or who smoke.
Mild cataracts can often be corrected with prescription glasses or contacts, Cartwright said, but some cases warrant surgery.
“The surgery itself is very successful,” she said. “The technology and equipment has changed so much in the last ten years. The healing time is much faster and can be done on an outpatient basis. We can even use lenses so patients may not even need glasses after the surgery.”
Cataract surgery involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with a new, clear, artificial lens. MACH ophthalmologists, who perform an average of 100 cataract surgeries a year, are using premium intraocular lenses, such as the ReSTOR lens, Cartwright said.
“All our Tricare beneficiaries are eligible to receive their surgical eye care here,” she said. “It’s modern, no-needle, no-stitch and we don’t charge anything for the surgery or the premium lens. We also have the best surgical instruments.”
For Kim LaFond, the service came as a surprise. A few years ago, she was diagnosed with cataracts and her prescription had gotten so strong that her glasses became too heavy to wear. But when she had called for a referral for cataract surgery, she received a call from Cartwright.
“Doctor Cartwright called me and said, ‘You should come and have your surgery here,’” LaFond said. “I talked to her, she made the appointment and I had surgery right away. Now, I can see like I did 30 or 40 years ago.” For years, she had been referred out for her surgical eye care and thought the hospital only offered eye care for Soldiers.
“I couldn’t see,” she said. “I don’t need glasses for driving, but I still need glasses for reading. The surgery did not even take 30 minutes and I didn’t feel anything. I’m so happy and I tell friends of mine about it.”
That’s good news for Cartwright, who hopes to continue seeing more surgical patients in her clinic.
“If you can improve someone’s vision, that’s something they can appreciate every day,” she said.