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Eye care for 10th Medical Group patients expands with a ‘smile’

Staff Sgt. Zachary Martini, ophthalmology patient, undergoes a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery at the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., Aug. 19, 2021.

Staff Sgt. Zachary Martini, ophthalmology patient, undergoes a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery at the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., Aug. 19, 2021. During SMILE, an ophthalmologist removes part of a patient’s eye tissue with a laser and reshapes the cornea to correct their vision. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Zach Vaughn)

Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer (center), chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., and his staff, evaluates a patient during a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery, Aug. 19, 2021.

Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer (center), chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., and his staff evaluate a patient during a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery, Aug. 19, 2021. During the procedure, an ophthalmologist removes part of a patient’s eye tissue with a laser and reshapes the cornea to correct their vision. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Zach Vaughn)

Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer, chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., looks through a microscope during a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery, Aug. 19, 2021.

Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer, chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., looks through a microscope during a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery, Aug. 19, 2021. Neuffer said SMILE is less invasive than LASIK, a more common eye surgery, and some medical groups at bases in Maryland, Ohio and Texas also offer the procedure. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Zach Vaughn)

Staff Sgt. Zachary Martini, ophthalmology patient, undergoes a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery at the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., Aug. 19, 2021.

Staff Sgt. Zachary Martini, ophthalmology patient, undergoes a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery at the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., Aug. 19, 2021. During SMILE, an ophthalmologist removes part of a patient’s eye tissue with a laser and reshapes the cornea to correct their vision. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Zach Vaughn)

Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer, chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., manipulates a joystick to position the patient into place during a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery, Aug. 19, 2021.

Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer, chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., manipulates a joystick to position the patient into place during a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery, Aug. 19, 2021. Neuffer said SMILE is less invasive than LASIK, a more common eye surgery, and some medical groups at bases in Maryland, Ohio and Texas also offer the procedure. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Zach Vaughn)

Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer, chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., and his staff, prepare to use medical instruments during a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery, Aug. 19, 2021.

Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer, chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group, Air Force Academy, Colo., and his staff, prepare to use medical instruments during a small incisional lenticular extraction (SMILE) eye surgery, Aug. 19, 2021. During SMILE, an ophthalmologist removes part of a patient’s eye tissue with a laser and reshapes the cornea to correct their vision. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Zach Vaughn)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --

Service members and cadets at the Air Force Academy may be eligible to receive a new eye procedure designed to improve their sight.

The small incisional lenticular extraction, or SMILE, procedure is less invasive than LASIK, a common laser eye surgery, according to Lt. Col. Marcus Neuffer, the Academy’s chief surgeon assigned to the 10th Medical Group.

“The LASIK procedure makes a flap which acts like a Band-Aid,” he said. “But the issue with the flap is that people worry about it getting wrinkled. SMILE is similar to LASIK but without the flap.”

During the SMILE procedure, an ophthalmologist removes part of a patient’s eye tissue with a laser and reshapes the cornea to correct their vision.

“The beauty of it is that the patient gets to have a quick recovery time, minimal pain and no flap they have to worry about,” Neuffer said. “They don’t need to wear glasses anymore and their recovery time is usually around two days.”

Staff Sgt. Zachary Martini, a SMILE patient, said the procedure improved his quality of life.

“I’ve had to wear glasses since I was four, so being able to see without them is awesome. It’s life changing,” he said. “I don’t need to use gas mask inserts anymore, which are uncomfortable and just doing regular things like sports and working out are easier too.”

The Air Force has approved SMILE for pilots but they must obtain a waiver afterwards. Medical groups at Air Force Bases in Maryland, Ohio and Texas also offer eligible patients the SMILE procedure. The 10th MDG does not offer the procedure to dependents or retirees.