Having surgery to change the color of your eyes can really leave you blue.
Just ask Nadinne Bruna.
The 32-year-old Instagram model has been left partially blind after a controversial surgical procedure to change her eye color.
Bruna wanted to alter her eyes from hazel to light gray by undergoing a procedure in which silicone implants are placed in the eye.
The surgery isn’t approved in the United States, so Bruna traveled to Colombia for the procedure.
As a result, she has now lost 80 percent of her vision in her right eye and 50 percent in her left eye. She will have to live with the damage for the rest of her life.
“Before this surgery my eyes were completely healthy. They were in really good condition. I was so naïve,” Bruna said.
Despite traveling to Colombia twice more in the year following her initial surgery, Bruna’s surgeons were unable to repair the damage.
Dr. Ranya Habash from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Florida led a team to remove the implants from Bruna’s eyes and conduct emergency glaucoma surgery.
“There’s a reason these procedures are not FDA approved and that’s because we’ve seen the long-term and irreparable damage they can cause. Nadinne’s eye problems are something she will have to deal with for the rest of her life. She’s never going to be done with it,” Habash said.
What the surgery does to the eye
Placing an implant in the front of the eye comes with considerable risks.
Injecting a silicone plate into the eye, as was the case for Bruna, can cause the drain of the eye to clog.
As a result, pressure continues to build up inside the eye, causing inflammation and damaging the structures of the eye.
Dr. Colin McCannel, a professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the medical director of the Stein Eye Center in Santa Monica, says such surgeries aren’t worth the risk.
“There is a significant risk that an implant in the front of the eye will, in time, have problems. Inflammation, glaucoma, cataract, and need for a corneal transplant, as Ms. Bruna suffered, are what one would anticipate as complications,” McCannel told Healthline. “Worst-case scenario, she could have suffered an infection inside the eye, which could lead to loss of the eye altogether.”
“Pursuing any unnecessary eye surgery is a bad idea,” he added, “and an implant that is not approved by the FDA in this country probably is not a great idea. The FDA protects us against too risky drugs and devices.”
Despite emergency glaucoma surgery, Bruna still suffers from vision damage, has cataracts, and will have to undergo a cornea transplant.
A better way to change colors
The American Academy of Ophthalmology advises that if people wish to change their eye color, they should speak with an ophthalmologist about the possibility of being fitted for contact lenses designed for that purpose.
But this should only be done by a qualified ophthalmologist.
Dr. Andrew Iwach, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says he understands why people want to individualize or change their appearance.
But he says surgeries like the one undertaken by Bruna are a step too far.
“People would like to individualize and customize how they look or what they do, which is fine. We want to be ourselves and individuals. However, there are lines we should not cross. The eye is a critical organ that is very, very delicate and very, very sensitive. The bottom line is there are lots of ways to customize and individualize who you are yet without risking your vision,” Iwach told Healthline.
Both Iwach and McCannel advise that it’s best to have eye surgeries done in the United States, where regulations protect people from risky procedures or products.
If a person still wishes to seek surgery abroad, they should first sit down with a U.S.-based ophthalmologist for advice.
“Turn to the professionals, go to the ophthalmologists, sit down and tell them what you’re thinking,” Iwach said.
“It is difficult to know about the quality of care delivered in any setting, but it is nearly impossible outside of the country. The best way might be to talk to a specialist in your own country that is reputable and you trust, and see if he or she has any recommendations or knowledge of specialists in other countries. For instance, I have my patients call me if they need specialty care while travelling, and I try and find someone close to where they are whom I either know or know of to be a reputable clinician,” he said.
Don’t believe everything you see
Bruna has made a career out of sharing images of her various cosmetic procedures.
Her surgeries are regularly compensated, and she is often paid to feature medical procedures to her Instagram following.
For her Colombian eye surgery, she was charged a discounted rate of $3,000 in exchange for a social media post and a testimonial video.
Iwach hopes people learn from Bruna’s experience and remain skeptical about information they see online and on social media.
“Just because it’s on a computer screen, doesn’t make it right. Popularity doesn’t necessarily make it right. Popularity doesn’t make it safe. The odds are if it’s being done in some remote clinic only, there’s a reason it’s being done in the remote clinic,” Iwach said.
“The eyes are precious and critical for us to live a full life,” he added, “and if a patient or someone considering this doesn’t fully understand, have them close their eyes and see what the world would look like, what their life would be like without vision.”