New York (PRWEB) July 7, 2006
National Guard soldier Ernesto Rodriguez thinks going into combat without his glasses on will give him an edge.
That's only the case now that he has had laser eye surgery to fully correct a vision problem.
The Fort Dix soldier was one of three from the central New Jersey base last week who received free LASIK eye treatments in advance of being shipped out to Iraq, where Rodriguez will serve his second tour of active duty.
LASIK is an acronym for laser assisted in situ keratomileusis, in which a laser is used to reshape the cornea.
Night vision goggles, gas masks and all the other head equipment soldiers are required to wear at times do not always fit as comfortably or securely when glasses are worn. That's part of the reasoning behind the LASIK surgery procedures, which were donated by New York Dr Joseph Dello Russo of Dello Russo Vision Center.
Dr Joseph Dello Russo said glasses can be a liability for soldiers out in the field. They are easily broken in combat conditions, and a soldier can wait up to three weeks before a replacement pair is sent in.
"I want to offer the surgery free for those going into combat," he said, noting that these are the people who can benefit the most.
Dr Joseph Dello Russo has been offering free surgeries to soldiers going to Iraq for the past six months and will continue doing so in the future. The surgery normally costs $5,500, but he has performed it free for soldiers one day per month. Generally, those who undergo the surgery can expect 20/20 vision.
A slightly different form of the LASIK procedure has become popular in the Navy, where cadets unqualified for flying jobs because of vision problems can reverse that disability and compete with others who have perfect eyesight.
Other Fort Dix soldiers receiving the treatment Wednesday were Arnulfo Delgadillo and John Greene. In all, 11 Army, Navy and National Guardsmen received the free eye surgery at Dello Russo's office.
For Rodriguez, glasses can be a major hazard and contact lenses aren't an option. Rodriguez, who returned from Iraq several months ago and will return shortly, said sandstorms make contact lenses unusable, and soldiers aren't allowed to wear them.
"I think it's wonderful to have something like this to help soldiers out on the field," Rodriguez said.
The Defense Department started a program to provide LASIK surgery to soldiers several years ago, after an initial period of reluctance, Dello Russo said. However, there are currently only two military hospitals offering the service across the country, and only cadets in the military academies are offered the surgery.
By expanding the surgery's availability for soldiers, Dr Joseph Dello Russo said it could gain more widespread use in other branches of the military.
Dr Joseph Dello Russo came up with the idea to offer free procedures last year and began performing them shortly after. He hopes to bring more awareness to the surgery and its helpfulness for soldiers on the battlefield, and perhaps persuade the Department of Defense to expand its program for offering eye surgery to more service members.
To date, he has provided LASIK surgery to approximately 25 soldiers, from all branches of the military and the National Guard.