‘Life-changing’ ICL surgery brings crystal vision in an hour

Once totally dependent on glasses and contact lenses, Nikole Rachelson now relishes her new perfect vision
Feb. 21, 2018
Life-changing ICL surgery has made it possible for Nikole Rachelson to enjoy the outdoors more than ever. Here, she hikes with her husband on an emerald-green slope in Iceland.
‘Life-changing’ ICL surgery has made life more fun than ever now that Nikole Rachelson no longer needs contacts or glasses. She and her husband love hiking. Here they pose on an emerald-green slope in Iceland. Photo courtesy of Nikole Rachelson.

Fresh from eye surgery, Nikole Rachelson could hardly believe the view outside her window.

“The mountains were so crisp and clear,” said Nikole, 36.

And at yoga classes, she didn’t have to worry about beads of sweat rolling into her eyes and fogging or dislodging her contacts.

Since childhood, Nikole had struggled with severe nearsightedness or myopia. First she wore glasses, then by age 14, she was wearing contacts all day, every day.

Nikole’s vision was so poor without corrective lenses that she wasn’t eligible for laser surgeries like Lasik or PRK.

Long days working on her computer as an engineer were leaving her eyes tired, dry and sore.

“My eyes hurt all the time,” she said.

Life-changing ICL surgery: a transforming choice

So, with help from Dr. Ronald Wise, her ophthalmologist at the UCHealth Eye Center – LoDo, Nikole considered her options and decided to have a surgery called ICL, which stands for implantable collamer lenses.

After struggling with severe nearsightedness or myopia all her life, Niikole loves seeing better than ever without contacts or glasses. Photo courtesy of Nikole Rachelson.
After struggling with severe nearsightedness or myopia all her life, Niikole loves seeing better than ever without contacts or glasses. Photo courtesy of Nikole Rachelson.

Her results have been stunning.

After the one-hour ICL procedure at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, Nikole emerged with better vision than she ever had experienced in her life. Immediately after surgery, she had 20/40 vision. By the next day, it was perfect: 20/20.

“It’s been amazing, completely life changing,” Nikole said. “It’s been so freeing not to be attached to my glasses or my contacts. They were my lifeline.”

Along with yoga, she and her husband love cooking and hiking. And, while she works as a water quality engineer by day, she’s a holistic nutrition consultant and blogger on nights and weekends. She helps clients find the root causes of their health issues and create personalized nutrition and lifestyle programs. Nikole shares her favorite recipes and insights on Instagram and her website, Whole Nikole Nutrition.

Now Nikole has been enjoying her work and hobbies more than ever. She shared news about her eye surgery with her followers on Instagram, eager to tell people about her positive experience.

Perfect vision with ICL

Like many people who have struggled for years with poor vision, Nikole could not function without glasses or contacts.

“She couldn’t even see the big E on the eye chart without getting a couple of feet away,” Wise said.

Every morning, Nikole had to feel for her glasses next to her before she could start her day. She still finds herself automatically going through the motions to put in her contacts. Then she catches herself and joyfully remembers she doesn’t have to do that anymore. And, when she travels, as she frequently does for work, she no longer has to worry about dry airplane cabins or bringing extra supplies of contacts and lens solution.

Now, perfectly functioning lenses sit right over the natural lenses in her eye.

“The beauty of this procedure is that you’re maintaining the anatomy of the eye,” Wise said. “You are correcting the prescription through an implantable lens. It’s like you’re putting in contact lenses forever. They are inside the eye and always there”.

“The quality of the vision is superior to LASIK in many patients and the rapid recovery is just phenomenal,” Wise said.

He said Nikole is typical of ICL patients who report the best vision they have ever experienced. The surgery is ideal for adults, ages 21 to 45, who have moderate to severe myopia. Older patients will often get cataracts at around age 60 and cataract surgery makes more sense for them than ICL. People with less severe myopia can opt for laser surgery or ICL, which the FDA approved in 2005.

Wise often teams up with fellow UCHealth ophthalmologist, Dr. Michael Taravella. The two are among only half a dozen doctors in the Rocky Mountain region who do ICL.

“The benefit of an academic setting is that we work together, hand in hand,” Wise said.

A specialized surgery

Wise said there are three components of ICL that require a specialized surgeon.

First, the pre-operative evaluation is critical.

“We need to be fastidious about getting good data. We have to choose the power of the lens using accurate computer-generated information,” Wise said.

Dr. Ronald Wise
Dr. Ronald Wise

Second, the surgery needs to be precise.

“We do a small incision in the eye, then fold and insert the lens behind the pupil. So, it’s a very intricate microsurgery.”

Finally, attentive follow up is key.

“I make myself available any time and provide patients my cell phone number,” Wise said.

In Nikole’s case, that extraordinary accessibility turned out to be critical.

About a week after her surgery, Nikole and her husband headed to Taos to celebrate Thanksgiving with family. While there, she began to feel some pressure in her eyes. To make room for the lenses prior to the ICL surgery, Wise created tiny holes with a laser that relieve pressure and create space for the additional lenses. Nikole dealt with a rare side effect where those holes healed themselves and closed up.

Thankfully, Wise had given her his mobile number. So she texted him over the Thanksgiving holiday. He helped her get care and medication right away in New Mexico. Then, she and her husband drove back to Colorado and Wise opened the eye center at the hospital over the weekend to re-open the microscopic holes in Nikole’s eyes.

Since then, the holes have stayed open and Nikole has been enjoying great vision without any pain.

‘A new person’

“Sometimes it doesn’t feel real,” Nikole said.

She and her husband live in a high rise in Denver’s River North area. A wall of windows looks west toward the mountains.

With her new vision, Nikole has enjoyed the view more than ever.

A bowl filled with bananas and coconut with tropical plants nearby. Photo by Nikole Rachelson.
Nikole’s Coco-Nana Smoothe Bowl. Photo by Nikole Rachelson.

She’s also feeling energetic and is devoting more time to her passions of yoga and nutrition consulting.

Nikole’s interest in healthy eating developed in her 20s when she often felt lousy and exhausted. She saw many doctors, but struggled to find the help to improve her quality of life. Finally, a doctor told her she could get tested for Celiac Disease or she could simply try eliminating gluten from her diet.

“Ugh,” Nikole thought. “I love bread.”

Nonetheless, she gave it a shot.

Toasted sweet potato with avocados blueberry and chia seeds make for a colorful, healthy breakfast.
Nikoles’ sweet potato toast with avocado, blueberry and chia seeds. Photo by Nikole Rachelson.

“It was a total night and day difference,” she said. “The gluten was causing a lot of inflammation. It didn’t solve everything, but it was a really good step in the right direction.”

After seeing some improvement, Nikole was eager to learn more about the science that supports a whole food based approach to health. She had graduated from University of Colorado at Boulder with an engineering degree, then went on to earn her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from Arizona State University.

As she got more interested in nutrition, she decided to go back to school for a certificate in holistic nutrition. She studied for two years at Bauman College and graduated with honors. Little by little, she was able to apply what she learned to her own life and saw huge improvements in her health.

Dessert a la Whole Nikole. Photoe by Nikole Rachelson.
Dessert a la Whole Nikole. Photo by Nikole Rachelson.

Because her philosophy centers on eating unprocessed, whole foods, Nikole has taught herself to cook and loves sharing recipes on Instagram and her blog. Some of her favorites include Sweet Potato Avocado Toast, her Coco-Nana Smoothie Bowl and Dessert…a la Whole Nikole.

“I started experimenting in the kitchen and that became a science project too. My husband has always been very supportive. We cook together,” she said.

Between her nutritional discoveries and her perfect vision, Nikole is thrilled with life.

“I’m a new person.”

She’s grateful that she was able to find a doctor who was willing to help her understand the science behind her myopia and answer all her questions.

“Dr. Wise is wonderful. He never makes you feel rushed,” Nikole said. “He’s one of those doctors who really cares about his patients. His standard of care is so high that I never worried. I always knew I was in really good hands.”

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.