Will Surgically Changing Your Eye Color Make You Go Blind?

I don’t know about you, but when I first saw photos of Tiny and her daughter Zonnique’s eyes after their permanent eye color surgeries, I thought, “BLIND!” The idea of someone taking a knife to my eyes terrified me. Keep that scalpel away, Satan!

“I looked in the mirror and I was, like, ’they’re amazing,’” Tiny told ABC News in October 2014. Nineteen-year-old Zonnique gushed to Juicy magazine, “It actually isn’t painful – they put you to sleep so it’s like you don’t feel it, and it’s a really short process.” Meanwhile, I’m over here like:

As a budding, hard-hitting medical journalist, I decided to dig deeper into the VH1 reality stars’ ocular transformations. I first went to BrightOcular, the company Tiny got her procedure done through. (Fun fact: She traveled to Africa for this shiz!) Its website royally sketched me out. Was it made in an eighth grade beginning HTML class? I called the number listed on the website (oddly enough an L.A. area code) and endured a repetitive automated message before leaving a voicemail. They still haven’t called me back.

But a BrightOcular representative named Spencer did email me. I grilled him about the surgery, and his responses were helpful (although the amount of typos in them was unsettling). He also directed me to a Web MD page to learn more, which really freaked me out. Here is what he told me:

 

  • The procedure typically costs between $5,000 and $7,000.
  • The surgeon unfolds a prosthetic iris and spreads it on top of the natural iris.
  • It takes five to 10 minutes per eye.
  • Risks include: endothelial cell loss, ocular hypertension, chronic uveitis, deformed pupil and alteration of cornea.
  • You should make a habit to see an ophthalmologist three times a year post-op.
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And if you’re itching to see this craziness up close and personal, check out the video below:

BrightOcular then recommended I get in touch with Arizona-based ophthalmologist Dr. Michael Campion for an expert medical opinion. I was originally suspicious talking to him. How much is BO paying this dude?

Red flag No.1: Dr. Campion has been performing the surgery since June, so he’s not exactly seasoned at it. That being said, his answers weren’t as PC as I thought. He said if a patient is a good fit for the surgery and routinely has check-ups after, “the risk of blindness is very low.” (According to Dr. Campion, your eye measurements determine whether or not you’re right for BrightOcular. I’m still not exactly sure what this means.)

“This is a relatively new surgery and there is no long-term data. It is not FDA-approved at this time,”—Dr. Michael Campion

Because the surgery is in its infancy, Dr. Campion writes patients have to balance personal pros and cons before making the decision to go under. “This is a relatively new surgery and there is no long-term data. It is not FDA-approved at this time,” he said. “Like any surgery, one has to weigh the benefits of the surgery versus the risk.”

Forgive me if I was a little skeptical about all of this. BrightOcular wants people to have the surgery, so I feared their responses were slightly biased. And of course Tiny and Niq Niq had nothing but positive things to say about the surgery—they look fabulous! To stop images of bleeding eyes dancing around my head, I needed to speak to third-party doctors about this—actual board-certified baes who know peepers like I know Madonna.

That’s when I hit a road block: No doctors were willing to speak to me, maybebecause the procedure isn’t legal in America. I kid you not: I reached out to (low-balling it) 10 doctors about this procedure and got rejected more times than Gordo on Lizzie McGuire. One doctor laughed me off the phone. Am I missing something here? These people went to medical school for eyes, but they can’t give me an educated opinion on eyes?! That’s like an Olive Garden waiter unwilling to speak about breadsticks. I was very annoyed.

Tri-state opthamologist Dr. Dan Landmannwas my saving grace. Finally: An IRL eye doctor willing to talk to me about IRL eye things. He gave me major insight into the surgery but didn’t exactly put my mind at ease. (Tiny and Niq Niq, are you listening?)

“You would develop glaucoma. You would develop it from this kind of implant.”—Dr. Dan Landmann

I cut right to the chase: Is this surgery safe? Dr. Landmann told me it’s difficult to gauge the safety of iris implant surgery because its main risks are long-term. “You can have inflammation in the eye, which is called uveitis, or glaucoma,” he said. “That’s not something that’s going to manifest itself or become obvious next week. It’s going to be the next five, 10, 15, 20 years down the line. You would develop glaucoma. You would develop it from this kind of implant.”

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Alright doc, but will I go blind if I get the surgery? Dr. Landmann said blindness is a “legitimate” concern someone should have when considering the procedure. “Uveitis and glaucoma cause blindness,” he said. “Glaucoma is the most common cause of blindness in African Americans in our country.” (This fact checks out, per the National Institutes of Health.)

Dr. Landmann said he wouldn’t perform the surgery because it’s too early to determine the long-term safety of it. “It would take time,” he said. “It takes 10 to 15 years to know that for sure.” He compared the entire situation to Lasik. At one point, doctors were hesitant to do Lasik because they didn’t know the long-term safety on it. Now, Lasik is more rampant in our country than the Kardashians.

And will the surgery ever be legal stateside? Yes, Dr. Landmann says, but that won’t mean it’s a good idea to perform it.

“Even if it’s legal, the question is whether or not you want to do it. It might be legal next year, but it might not be safe to do it next year.”—Dr. Landmann

After talking to BrightOcular, doctors and patients, here is my tea: This surgery is brand spankin’ new, and with that comes risk—some that may not appear until years later. Nothing is guaranteed, but it seems like if you fit the criteria, then you shouldbe fine. As for me? I’m going to pass. I received too many varying opinions on the chance of losing my vision. I’ll keep my boring hazel eyes, thank you very much.

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