Olympic athletes have to be at the top of their abilities when it comes time to compete. University of Utah Health is dedicated to treating these athletes as part of the National Medical Network for the United States Olympic Committee both at the games, and during training. At the games doctors like Christopher Gee, MD, will be treating athletes as they prepare to compete. Here at home a network of doctors is ready to help athletes with an array of issues. Athletes like Oksana Masters.
Masters has overcome much to achieve her goal of being a biathlete and Paralympic medalists. Born with damage to her legs suspected to be caused by in-utero radiation poisoning she is a double leg amputee who has undergone more than 20 surgeries in her 28 years. Still, one thing was getting in her way out on the course: contact lenses she wore to correct her nearsightedness.
To compete, Oksana is strapped into a carbon fiber sit-ski custom molded to fit her body. Straps lock her waist down, so when she skis, she's really solid and can turn the sled around corners. When Oksana skis hard in the blistering cold to the rifle range, she falls to her side—still strapped to her sled—lies on her belly with the sit-ski up in the air, sights her rifle, and shoots.
"We race in Siberia and Northern Finland, some of the coldest places on the planet," explained John Farra, Oksana's US Paralympics Nordic Skiing coach. "But because her contact would fog up and slide around, she lost critical seconds trying to adjust them to see her target 10 meters away."
Luckily for Masters, Moran Eye Center is part of University of Utah Health. The Moran Center offers LASIK (laser in-situ keratomileusis) surgery—a technique that precisely reshapes the cornea, treating nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. As a result, many patients find their vision restored up to, or better, than 20/20.
"Oksana is a very strong, powerful, gifted, athlete—tough as nails—her vision is a piece of that puzzle. You can imagine being one of the best skiers—you can beat everybody on the course, but if you can't hit your shots, you're not going to be on the podium," said Farra. "LASIK was an important piece of the puzzle."
In September of 2016 Masters met with Moran cornea specialist, Amy Lin, MD, who decided she was a perfect candidate for LASIK. Masters would have the surgery just in time to head to Sweden to begin training for the 2017 Cross Country Biathlon Nationals.
Waiting for surgery, Oksana was hopeful: "I think LASIK is going to change my performance greatly, especially in biathlon: one race, I was trying to take off my glasses to get ready to go into the range, and my hand bumped my eye, which popped my contact out. Everything was really blurry, and I couldn't see a thing. So not having to worry about shooting and skiing with literally one eye is going to be really nice."
"Nice" turned out to be an understatement. Four months later—minus the troublesome contacts—Masters took four world championship titles and five medals for the U.S. at the 2017 World Para-Nordic Skiing Championships. With the wins, she made history as the most successful U.S. woman at a world champion- ship since International Paralympic Committee records were maintained in the sport. "Getting LASIK has helped me so much in my training and racing especially in biathlon," said Masters. "It has also made my quality of life so much better, especially when traveling to world cups—I don't have to worry about having enough contacts, solution, or remembering my glasses! LASIK is the best thing I have done."
"The University of Utah Moran Eye Center was great to work with and accommodated our very busy athlete's schedule to help her get the treatment she needed," added Farra. "The LASIK surgery was very successful for Oksana and has helped to break down some performance barriers, especially in the sport of Biathlon. The performance impact is clear, and we look forward to seeing how far she can take her skiing and shooting at the 2018 Paralympic Games!"