Diabetes can be a debilitating disease. It affects more than 20.8 million children and adults in the United States — 7 percent of the population, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Diabetes also is the leading cause of blindness for those age 75 and younger. Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), an abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina, is one of the diseases often causing vision loss among diabetics.
The UAB Department of Ophthalmology, with the assistance of the Lions Club of Alabama and Lions Clubs International, recently purchased a laser with cutting-edge technology that can put a halt to progressive visual loss caused by PDR.
The Pattern Scan Laser Photocoagulation (PASCAL) laser enables ophthalmologists to place up to 25 laser spots in a fraction of a second and shrink the enlarged vessels with less discomfort for patients.
“With proliferative diabetic retinopathy, patients’ eyes develop abnormal blood vessels that are fragile, prone to bleeding and can progress to blindness if left untreated,” says Jeff Yee, M.D., medical director of the Lions Eye Clinic and director of the Callahan Eye Foundation Emergency Room. “Early intervention is the key. You can cause some of those abnormal vessels to shrink away. The PASCAL laser can help, particularly with proliferative diabetic retinopathy. We can place spots much more quickly with less discomfort to the patients and also do the treatment in one sitting.”
The previous generation laser only could treat one spot at a time, and therapy often consisted of 1,200 to 1,600 laser spots broken into two sessions.
“We have patients throughout the state, and sometimes they had to make separate trips for treatment,” Yee says. “That won’t be the case with the PASCAL laser. It’s more efficient and less painful.”
Another group that will benefit from using the PASCAL laser is the residents. The Department of Ophthalmology is the only ophthalmology resident-training program in the state.
“Our residents will be training on the PASCAL laser,” Yee says. “Many of them stay here in Alabama and will treat us or family members or friends. They’re the future generation of ophthalmologists, and we want them fully prepared when they leave here.”
Grant, donation aided in purchase
The purchase of the laser was made possible by various donations and a grant prepared by Lindsay Knox, development director for the UAB Department of Ophthalmology.
The Lions Club International awarded a $40,000 grant to the department, and the Lions Club of Alabama held a 30/30 campaign, raising $30,000 in 30 days. The department contributed another $10,000 to complete the purchase.
“We had tremendous support from the Lions Club to help make this possible,” Knox says. “The Lions Eye Clinic is unique in Alabama where patients can receive state-of-the-art vision care, regardless of their ability to pay. This strengthens our clinic greatly, which means our patients will benefit in the type of care they receive and our physicians have the latest equipment at their disposal.”