The family of a beloved TV meteorologist from Michigan are breaking their silence for their first time since she killed herself in December, saying they are convinced that complications from a corrective eye surgery she had undergone two months earlier drove her to suicide.
Jessica Starr, 35, a married mother-of-two who worked for WJBK Fox 2 since 2011, took her own life on December 12, less than nine weeks after she had gone in for a laser eye surgery known as SMILE to correct her nearsightedness.
In an interview with Good Morning America that aired Wednesday, Jessica’s widowed husband, Dan Rose, and her mother, Carol Starr, revealed that the usually bubbly and gregarious wife and mother became depressed in the aftermath of the surgery.
Breaking their silence: Carol Starr, Jessica Starr’s mother, and her widowed husband, Dan Rose, appeared on Good Morning America Wednesday to talk about her post-eye surgery suicide
Starr, 35, a TV meteorologist in Michigan, took her own life in December, just eight weeks after undergoing a corrective laser eye surgery known as SMILE
SMILE, which is an acronym that stands for ‘small incision lenticule extraction,’ involves the surgeon using a femtosecond laser to create a small piece of tissue within the cornea then, using the same laser, they make an arc-shaped incision on the cornea’s surface to extract the tissue through and discard it.
It changes the shape of the cornea and corrects nearsightedness. Ordinarily, patients’ incision heals within a few days, without stitches, and their vision is quickly improved.
The procedure was approved by the FDA in 2016 and is carried out by doctors across the country. It has been performed around 1.5million times worldwide.
Jessica had the surgery in October and took four weeks off then returned to work for one day in November but it was too much of a struggle for her and she was back at home the next day.
In a video uploaded to her Facebook page on November 13, the day she went back to work, she was downcast as she asked viewers for their prayers and well wishes.
‘I am struggling a little bit so I need all the prayers and well wishes. This is a hard go.
Her family say Jessica struggled with complications associated with the procedure, including extremely dry eyes and starbursts, which they believe led to her depression
Starr is survived by her parents, husband and their two young children, a son and daughter (all pictured together)
‘If you have any tips I’d appreciate it, I’m trying to stay strong and get through this recovery.
Rose said his wife knew something was not right with her eyes within days of the operation.
‘She started to complain of incredibly dry eyes,’ he told GMA. ‘She had almost no night vision. She had starbursts that she was seeing during the day and at night.’
In the weeks before her suicide, Starr made several videos documenting her struggles, saying at one point that she was mad at herself for having the surgery done
The woman documented her struggles in video diary entries. In one recording, a dejected Jessica talks about feeling mad at herself for deciding to go through with the SMILE procedure.
‘I don’t know why [I did it],’ she tells the camera. ‘I was fine in contacts. Glasses weren’t that big of a deal. It was fine.’
Her mother, Carol, told Good Morning America that in the weeks after the surgery, Jessica shed 25lbs. When she asked her daughter if she was well, Carol said Jessica replied that she was not eating and could not sleep.
According to her family, the Detroit-based meteorologist reached out to various eye doctors and even sought help with a therapist, but her emotional state continued deteriorating.
‘I was going to dinner by myself with the kids,’ her husband recounted. ‘I was taking the kids to the movies by myself, in the sense of she started to withdraw from life.’
Rose said his once-bubbly wife had started to ‘withdraw from life,’ leaving him to take spend time with their kids on his own
Both Rose and his mother-in-law agree that prior to the surgery, Jessica exhibited no signs of any physical or mental illness, and they point a finger of blame at the eye procedure.
‘There was nothing else that we can attribute it to,’ said Rose.
The American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery told ABC News in a statement that ‘clinical data on SMILE shows sight compromising complications are extremely rare, at less than one percent.’
THE RISKS OF LASER EYE SURGERY
Of some 600,000 Americans that get LASIK, only about one percent experience complications.
But for those who do, the effects can be devastating.
Complications can include:
- Vision loss
- Impaired vision
- Pain or burning
In 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration conducted a clinical trial to assess patient-satisfaction after LASIK.
About half of the patients in the trial developed burred or distorted vision that they had never experienced before surgery – even if their sight was technically ‘improved.’
They also found that patients were about half as likely to tell their doctors about developing complications after surgery as they were to admit to these issues in an online survey.
The American Refractive Surgery Council claims that LASIK has never been the ‘primary cause’ of someone’s post-operative blindness.
Back in 2008, the FDA held a hearing and heard testimony from patients who had suffered from blurred vision or burning eyes for years ever since surgery.
Families claimed their loved ones had lost their jobs and even been driven to suicide by the complications they developed after LASIK.
LASIK also requires the surgeon to cut a ‘flap’ in the front of the cornea and fold it back, which raises the risks of infection and, if the flap is not properly replaced, this can cause blurred or double-vision.
SMILE: THE NEWER, LESS-INVASIVE AND (SUPPOSEDLY) SAFER PROCEDURE
The newer SMILE (small incision lenticule extraction) procedure is supposed to minimize those risks because it requires a much smaller incision in the cornea.
Approved by the FDA in 2016, SMILE so far seems to carry lower risk of dry eyes after surgery.
Patients must be 22 years old, and the procedure is only intended to correct nearsightedness and astigmatism.
It still carries risks of:
- Haloed or glared vision
- Debris getting into the corneal incision area
- Needing ‘retreatment’ with a more invasive surgery
- Making vision worse
If there are complications during a SMILE procedure, surgeons may have to switch to the more invasive technique, or do another operation.
Recovery from SMILE is supposed to be shorter, lasting a few days as opposed to a month.
Nearly all patients recorded in FDA data have shown improvements from SMILE, but 10 percent said they had moderate or severe glare and six percent saw halos, though these mostly subsided after a year.
However, about 2.5 percent of patients experienced minor deterioration of these corrections after a year.
Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology, AllAboutVision.com