Health & Fitness

Medical Excellence: A Strong Focus on Eye Care

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Long established in Rockford, Northern Illinois Optical and Miller Eye Center provide patients of every age and need with innovative, highly advanced medical and surgical services.

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Vision. It’s something we all take very much for granted.

Fortunately, the greater Rockford area and, indeed, a growing sector of the world, can call on two local progressive, experienced and dedicated eye centers, whenever anything goes wrong.

Dr. Richard A. Miller, a board-certified ophthalmologist, fellowship-trained corneal specialist and clinical associate professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, began treating patients at Brookside Medical Center before going into private practice and opening Miller Eye Center in 1992. Since then, the center has grown into a 24,000-square-foot office at 2995 Eastrock Drive, the largest such facility in the community. Miller Eye Center specializes in surgery and treatment of complex eye diseases such as cataracts, corneal diseases, glaucoma and retinal diseases. The eye center also provides patients with routine eyeglasses and contact fittings.

“We have 49,000 active patient accounts,” Miller says. “One of the reasons we have grown so strongly is our capability of doing innovative and advanced procedures.”

One of the busiest cataract surgeons in the country, Miller has performed more than 20,000 cataract surgeries.

In addition, his practice offers refractive surgery to decrease dependence on glasses and correct complications from previous eye surgeries. Miller was among the first specialists in Rockford to perform minimally invasive cataract surgery, as well as the first to introduce ReSTOR multi-focal and Toric implants.

Known as Advanced Technology Implants (ATI), these two lens replacement techniques used during cataract surgery allow the vast majority of qualified patients to see clearly without glasses. At Miller Eye Center, 40 percent of patients who’ve undergone cataract surgery have chosen to have an ATI. Miller has performed more than 2,200 of these ATIs, and in 2014, implanted more ReSTOR implants than any other doctor in Illinois.

Miller says he has also begun using a laser guidance system, termed ORA, during surgery, to more accurately measure for the correct implant power.

“Despite all of our careful measuring by the usual standards, it’s possible to have the wrong implant power in 10 to 20 percent of patients,” he explains. “Certain conditions, such as a dense cataract, internally hidden astigmatism and previous Lasik or RK surgery, can throw the measurements off.”

Available only in northern Illinois at Miller Eye Center, the ORA system is employed in the operating room after removal of the cataract. It re-measures the eye and allows the surgeon to adjust the implant power, reducing the margin of error significantly.

Miller predicts a day when people with high amounts of astigmatism will no longer need to wear reading glasses after cataract surgeries.

“We have been waiting for the FDA to approve this new combined ReSTOR/Toric lens implant, although it has been available for the past five years in Europe, Mexico, Canada and other countries,” Miller says. “It finally will be available this June. Currently, we can only use Toric lenses in patients with astigmatism. This implant only corrects distant vision and doesn’t allow one to read without glasses. The new ReSTOR/Toric implant will allow most to eliminate the need for glasses completely.”

That’s not the only change Miller expects to see in coming years. He foresees a trend a decade from now in which patients in their 20s will have their natural lenses replaced by the ReSTOR or ReSTOR/Toric lens. Miller describes this as a cosmetic surgery done so the patient will never require glasses and won’t suffer cataracts.

“I am the only specialist in Rockford to offer minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) with the new iStent, a procedure in which a titanium stent is implanted at the same time as cataract surgery,” Miller says. “MIGS surgery is the newest evolution in the treatment of glaucoma. I have done about 100 of these dual procedures in which clinical trials have demonstrated an 80 percent success rate. The iStent’s main benefit is a low rate of side effects, as opposed to most other glaucoma surgical treatments, which have a significant rate of serious complications.”

Unfortunately, due to FDA rules, this stent procedure can only be done at the time of cataract surgery, thereby bypassing most glaucoma specialists who typically do not perform cataract surgery, Miller says.

Another innovative treatment available only at Miller Eye Center is a laser procedure that removes floaters that inhibit clear vision.

“Large floaters typically develop after age 50 and can drive patients batty,” he says. “In the past, there was no available treatment, and I must have told thousands that they had to live with the annoyance of floaters. Now that a new laser has been developed to treat floaters, it’s almost a miracle. The treatment takes about five minutes and is painless, with an 80-percent success rate in either completely eliminating or at least making the floater less visible. The procedure is covered by all insurance companies, including Medicare.”

Macular degeneration is a debilitating condition seen in 30 percent of patients over the age of 50. Miller says it may be the No. 2 reason why people become legally blind. Macular degeneration is hereditary, and occurs primarily in women, in light-skinned and blue-eyed patients, and those of Scandinavian heritage. Smoking seems to hasten the progression. There are two types of degeneration, the slow dry type and the rapid type caused by abnormal growth of new blood vessels.

“By employing dietary supplements and new drugs that reverse blood vessel growth, we’ve been able to cut the rate of blindness by 50 percent in the past 10 years,” Miller says. “More frequent monitoring to see if new blood vessels are forming in the back of patients’ eyes has additionally improved the odds of retaining useful vision, so patients with this condition are usually followed every three months.”

Based on significant advances in ophthalmology in the past decade, Miller says there appears to be no end to the possibilities. And, because of Miller Eye Center’s wide variety of services, his patient base will keep growing.

“I had a patient who, during her cataract surgery, complained that she had to drive all the way from Rochelle to Rockford to have surgery,” Miller says. “I explained to her that she shouldn’t complain, as the patient after her had flown all the way from Nigeria, Africa, for his cataract surgery.”

Miller Eye Center has treated patients from Saudi Arabia, Italy, Hong Kong and South America, among other nations.

Northern Illinois Optical occupies a unique niche in Rockford’s optical services field. Dr. Kenneth Minarik says Earl Fulling founded the company shortly after World War II.

“Earl came home from the war and married,” Minarik recalls. “He traveled around the region selling eyeglass frames in a smart suit and driving a Cadillac. But he carried a peanut butter sandwich in his leather briefcase because money was tight. He believed image was important.”

When the Fullings started a family, Minarik says he didn’t want to be away from home so much. He opened an eyeglass shop at 121 Madison St., just north of East State Street, where it has served loyal customers for more than 65 years.

“At age 96, Earl still sees customers,” Minarik says. “Our reputation has been based on treating our customers well, and they have returned to us for years. Some of our staff members have been with us for more than 20 years, so there’s always a familiar face when they come in.”

Minarik describes Northern Illinois Optical as being American to its core, founded by a World War II veteran and operated on a concept that holds true to this day: Do it right or not at all.

The optical business serves an average of 20 to 25 customers daily, with appointments filled for up to seven weeks.

“We see a huge number of Medicare patients who have been with us since they were in high school,” Minarik says. “One of the conditions we treat frequently is dry eye disease.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, dry eyes occur when tears aren’t able to provide adequate moisture. Tears can be inadequate for many reasons, including failure to produce enough tears or production of poor-quality tears.

Patients complain of discomfort, stinging and burning. This can occur when flying, being in air conditioning for long periods of time or looking at computer screens for a few hours. Symptoms can also include stringy mucus around eye;, eye fatigue; light sensitivity; redness; difficulty wearing contact lenses; blurred vision, especially at the end of the day; and the sensation that something is in the eye.

Dry eye disease may be caused by aging or may be an after-effect of surgeries, such as cataract removal, says Minarek. He sees many cases in younger customers as well.

“Dry eye disease is best treated with drops,” he says. “There are several prescription drugs available, plus a line of over-the-counter Systane products that are exceptionally good for relieving the discomfort of dry eyes.”

Because Systane contains guar, an element that has been used to make chewing gum since the 1800s, it is denser and clings to the eye for longer periods of time than more-watery formulas.

Minarik is exploring innovative advances in the field of contact lenses.

“I just spent a week in Florida learning about single-use bi-focal contact lenses that cost just $1 a pair,” Minarik says. “For customers who normally wear glasses but who don’t want to wear them for a special occasion, these are the perfect solution.”

The new one-use lenses are inserted for one day and require no cleaning or bottles of moisturizing liquids. For weddings and other celebrations away from home, the single-day contacts are ideal, he says.

“We have had customers tell us their contact lens solutions were confiscated at the airport because they were too big,” Minarik says. “Now they just wear their regular glasses to travel and save the lenses for when it really counts.”

Because of skilled, knowledgeable vision professionals right here at home, the entire Rockford community can enjoy the comfort of knowing help is nearby when needed. And with the advances being introduced constantly, these committed eye specialists can be relied upon to supply the highest-quality care far into the future.

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