Omar Sabuding said he always wanted to change his brown eyes to blue.
But the procedure he had been looking at that uses colored silicone implants to change eye color is illegal in the United States.
So he packed his bags and headed to Tunisia to have the procedure done for $6,500 at a company called BrightOcular.
Sabuding said he liked what he saw in the mirror after the procedure, but something wasn’t right.
“This is going to sound crazy, but I just saw two raisins, you know, the black spots because I’m not used to seeing it like that. I had to get used to it, you know. Even though I liked it, I saw the pictures, but when I saw myself in pictures in the mirror I was like, I don’t know,” Sabuding said.
That’s why just a few weeks later he had the artificial iris implants removed from his eyes, but the damage was already done.
His irides were permanently deformed and he was temporarily blinded. He spent the following six days in the hospital.
“The only thing I was thinking during that time when I couldn’t see anything was my family. All the appearance, all the shallowness, it didn’t mean anything. You know, it made me think. It’s sad that I had to go so far for me to realize it,” Sabuding said.
The artificial iris implants are made from thin, flexible medical-grade silicone.
The expensive and risky procedure has optometrists concerned.
Tampa General Hospital ophthalmologist Bernard Perez said people should not take chances with their eyes.
Perez said the companies that advertise the implants use misleading information on their websites that compare them to implants optometrists use on a routine basis during cataract surgery.
“Those are fraught with complications and many eyes have been lost because of them. The rate of them being extracted out of the eye from complications is extremely unacceptable,” Perez said.
There have been success stories following the implant procedures.
Reality T.V. star and singer Tameka “Tiny” Harris got a lot of backlash on social media when she posted pictures of her ice grey eyes.
She said had the BrightOcular procedure done in Africa, and she maintains that she has not had any complications.
The chairman and chief scientific officer of Stroma Medical, Gregg Homer, is working on a safe method for changing eye color.
His procedure doesn’t use an implant but instead removes eye color.
“The fundamental principle is that under every brown eye is a blue or green eye. We use a very low-energy laser to expose the brown pigment to this low-energy laser and it spins around the iris the beam is guided by a computer around the iris,” Homer said.
While Homer’s procedure isn’t legal in the United States, Stroma Medical said it has treated 70 patients in Mexico and Costa Rica with no complications.
The laser method is still in its testing phases, and Perez said there’s not enough research to know how safe it is yet. Homer said it would be several years before his procedure will even be considered for approval in the U.S.
BrightOcular implant surgeries can cost anywhere from $5,000-$7,000.
According to CBS Los Angeles, it's nearly impossible to confirm how many complications arise from BrightOcular procedures because they are only offered overseas.
Perez said the only safe method to change eye color is using colored contact lenses prescribed by an eye doctor.
We reached out to BrightOcular for comment but did not hear back.
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