Kelsy Johnson


Andee Helbing lived an active lifestyle, but her vision was horrible. As a motorcycle rider, she constantly battled her contact lenses as they dried out in the wind. She enjoyed swimming, but she couldn't wear lenses in the pool. The situation forced her to consider Lasik surgery.

"That was too cost prohibitive," Helbing said.

Then she heard a radio advertisement for corneal refractive therapy, an option that would allow her to wear contact lenses while asleep for perfect vision during the day. She made an appointment at Eye Center of the Dakotas for a free informational session.

It seems like something straight out of science fiction, but CRT lenses correct the shape of your cornea overnight. The lenses are made of a rigid, gas-permeable material appropriate to wear while sleeping.

Two optometrists offer CRT in the Bismarck area, and they are both located at the Eye Center of the Dakotas. Dr. Danelle Moch has been fitting people with CRT lenses for several years. Helbing was one of her first patients eight years ago. Dr. Kellen Pathroff joined the staff at this clinic in August after graduating from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn. She first learned about CRT while she was in school and is excited to offer it to her patients.

The majority of Moch and Pathroff's patients find out about CRT at their annual eye appointment. While the technology has been available for over a decade, most people are still unaware that it exists.

"Optometrists could do a better job of presenting it as an option," Pathroff said. "I have never had a patient ask for them specifically."

Corneal reshaping has been popular among athletes and people who prefer a nonsurgical approach to vision correction. Pathroff says patients who have allergies also benefit from this option because they don't have to wear lenses during the daytime, when their eyes are most affected.

"It's a great option for people who want a temporary fix," Pathroff said.

Since the benefits of CRT are temporary, children can wear the lenses as their vision changes. CRT lenses can help children who have progressive nearsightedness. As they get older, their vision continues to worsen, but studies have shown that kids who wear CRT lenses can actually slow that process down.

CRT is not a permanent solution to poor vision. Wearers have to be diligent about putting on their lenses. Eventually, the cornea will return to its original state if left uncorrected. For people whose initial vision was poor, their vision will worsen over the course of the day.

"Their vision might be reduced toward the end of the day," Pathroff said.

The largest expense for CRT comes from the CRT lenses and the initial fitting period. Vision benefits may cover some of this expense, but the majority of the upfront cost will have to be paid for out of pocket. For Helbing, the cost was about half as much as Lasik would have been.

The ideal candidate for CRT is someone with mild to moderate myopia, or nearsightedness. The process can be used on those with a prescription as high as -6 diopters, but the most successful patients have better than -4. Those who have better vision adjust to the CRT lenses quicker than those who have farther to go.

Helbing's vision rested on the outer edge of the acceptable range at -5.75 diopters. The adjustment process took her three weeks until her vision changed sufficiently overnight. She visited the optometrist frequently during this period. Because the range between her uncorrected vision and the target vision was so wide, she had to wear soft contact lenses throughout the process. She also needed a different wider set of CRT lenses.

Every case is different, and an optometrist like Pathroff or Moch at Eye Center of the Dakotas would be able to inform potential wearers about what the process will be like for them.

Helbing's advice to people considering this option is to be patient. It takes an average of 10 to 14 days to fully achieve corrected vision, according to Pathroff. Some people will need to wear soft contact lenses during the day until their eyes adjust completely.

Although the process took some time until she could finally see better, Helbing doesn't regret making the choice. She encourages her friends to consider it as well.

"I would never go back," Helbing said.

Kelsy Johnson, a native of Bismarck, works as a freelance reporter and nonprofit writer in Fargo. She divides her time between her two passions: storytelling and martial arts.