I thought laser surgery would be as simple as having a spray tan
The singer tells LUCY BENYON how the eye procedure left him with permanent problems
WHEN 1980s pop supremo Limahl noticed his near vision deteriorating, he didn’t think twice about booking himself in for corrective laser treatment. But it’s a decision he now bitterly regrets – because the surgery not only almost destroyed his vision, it has permanently damaged his eyes.
A decade on, the former Kajagoogoo frontman suffers from such chronically dry eyes that he needs to apply eyedrops countless times a day, dreads flying and must avoid air conditioning and central heating.
“It might sound like a minor problem, but it can be very limiting and uncomfortable,” says Limahl, 61, who recently started acting as well as singing, having found international fame 40 years ago with chart-topping hits such as Too Shy and The Never Ending Story.
“I guess I’m lucky that all my eye problems haven’t affected my career,” adds the pop star who has just released his latest single, Still In Love.
“But my eyes do have an impact on my everyday life,” he stresses.
“I have to use special eye gels overnight, and every morning, I need to clean the inside of my eyelids. My eyes are constantly irritating me too,” he adds. “I just wish I’d never had the treatment.”
THE IRONY is that before surgery, the singer had always had good eyesight and had only been wearing glasses for four years.
“I have never been short-sighted, but in my mid-40s, I started to struggle a bit with my near vision,” says Limahl, who lives with his partner Steve, in Hertfordshire.
“It got really annoying having to rummage around for reading glasses every time I wanted to look at a menu or read the paper, but I’d never really considered surgery.”
But then, in 2010, he recalls how he was sitting in a green room, waiting to appear on a chat show when presenter Anne Diamond started talking about a friend of hers who’d had LASIK laser surgery and was delighted with the results.
Without giving it too much thought, Limahl got the number of the clinic and booked himself in.
The procedure cost him £4,000 an eye and he never considered that anything could go wrong.
According to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCO) more than 100,000 patients a year undergo LASIK laser surgery in the UK. It involves cutting a flap on the surface of the cornea so that lasers can be used to alter its shape to correct short-sightedness, issues with long sight, and astigmatism – when the cornea has an irregular curve, causing distorted vision.
The procedure typically takes 15 minutes per eye and has a 95 per cent success rate, with many patients describing it as life-changing.
Limahl who describes himself as “horribly squeamish” said he felt surprisingly relaxed as his eyes were anaesthetised, and he describes the operation as being uncomfortable rather than painful.
“It was fine having it done, but I do remember this sinister smell of burning which made me rather nervous,” he says.
At first, he assumed the surgery had been a success, but over the next few days his sight became increasingly blurred, and alarm bells began to ring.
“I really couldn’t see properly,” he recalls. “Every time I took a step it felt like I was about to fall off the edge of the kerb. My balance and spatial awareness were all over the place, and I didn’t feel safe leaving the house.”
Alarmed, Limahl returned to the surgery where he learned that his poor vision was the result of an “over-correction”.
This means that the refraction (the way the eye focuses light) he had been left with was incorrect which was why his vision was so blurry. He was told he would have to wait another three months before he could have more laser surgery to correct this refractive error.
Surprisingly, the latest research from the RCO, shows that one in 10 patients need to have their initial refraction altered.
“It was really terrifying,” says Limahl.
YET THANKFULLY, the second procedure did restore his vision, but it left him with permanently dry eyes. “In the terms and conditions
I had to sign before the operation, it did state that 20 per cent of patients were left with dry eyes – but I never thought for a minute that I’d be one of them, or the condition would be permanent for me,” he says.
Limahl recalls how he first realised there was a problem when his eyes became uncomfortably dry on a flight to Sweden a few weeks after the second surgery.
Over the next few weeks, the dryness became increasingly uncomfortable and he sought advice from an eye specialist at the Royal Free Hospital in London who told him that the second laser operation had permanently damaged the Meibomian glands, which secrete oils onto the surface of the eyes to prevent tears from evaporating too quickly.
“I was gutted when I discovered there was no cure and that I’d be reliant on eye drops and gels, but I’ve come to think of myself as one of the lucky ones,” he says.
Limahl is referring to the fact that despite its high success rate, not everyone gets a happy ending after laser surgery, with some patients being left with light sensitivity, stabbing pains and blurred vision.
What isn’t stressed enough, Limahl believes, is not only the fact that things can go wrong; but also that some patients will end up wearing glasses again at some stage.
“It’s just not the miracle treatment it’s portrayed to be,” concludes Limahl. “I thought getting my eyes done would be as simple as having my hair highlighted or a spray tan.
“But your eyes are incredibly delicate. I just wish I’d never put mine under the knife.”
Limahl’s new single Still In Love is out on June 5. For information and tour dates go to limahl.com
HEYDAY: Limahl was a big star in the 1980s