01/17/2012 06:53 EST | Updated 03/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Iris Implants Threaten Vision


Using surgical implants to change eye colour can rob people of their vision, some Canadian eye specialists warn.

Cosmetic iris implants are not available in Canada or the U.S., but some Canadian doctors have had to treat patients who went outside North America for the procedure and developed serious problems.

Beatriz Murillo, 36, travelled from Toronto to a clinic in Panama, where she paid $8,000 to have a silicone disc placed on top of her irises to lighten the colour from brown to green.

"I'm an artist and I'm afraid I'm never going to be able to paint again," said Murillo, who had the procedure three years ago.

Last year, she started to feel pain, as if knives were stabbing the inside of her eyes. She also experienced elevated pressure in her eyes. Since then, she's had two glaucoma surgeries and a cornea transplant that her body rejected, and she can now only see vague shapes and colours.

"Essentially, she's legally blind now in both eyes, despite the fact that these artificial implants have been removed," said Dr. Allen Slomovic, Murillo's ophthalmologist, noting she can only count fingers 0.6 metres in front of her face, which is significantly worse than legal blindness.

"I think the lesson Beatriz has taught us is to be very cautious when dealing with cosmetic implants."

Dr. Ike Ahmed, an eye surgeon at Mississauga's Credit Valley Hospital, has seen two similar cases of people needing medical and surgical treatment.

Iris implants can irritate the delicate eye, Ahmed noted.

"These are some of the complications that we are seeing, unfortunately, with this device causing inflammation in the eye, causing bleeding and causing glaucoma, all of which can cause serious vision-threatening problems," Ahmed warned.

Non-cosmetic iris implants have been used on people who were born without irises or have a torn or damaged iris, ophthalmologists say.

But cosmetic iris implants are suspended in front of the iris in the front part of the eyeball, where there is little space, Ahmed said.

"At this time, we have no real safe, surgical way" to change eye colour, Ahmed said. "If one is really interested in changing their eye colour, then it means colour contact lenses."

At the New Iris clinic in Panama, Dr. Delary Kahn refused to talk about any specific patients, citing confidentiality.

"In the last six years, more than 600 procedures have been done including [on] many patients from Canada," Kahn said in an email.

Murillo now wants to get a donor cornea transplant in hopes of stopping the pain and improving her sight.

As for the colour she sought with the implants, Murillo said the lighter version looked "fake."