'Eye-Jewelry' Implants Arrive in America, Alarming Some Experts

Ophthalmologist association leader warns implanted bling ‘could be potentially blinding.’

Lucy Luckayanko received an eye-jewelry implant at Park Avenue SafeSight on Nov. 7, 2013, in New York City. This photograph was taken of Luckayanko during a Nov. 26, 2013, post-op visit to the eye center.
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Update: Subsequent to the publication of this article Dr. Chynn clarified that he did not want to offer free eye-jewelry surgeries because of their cost.

This article was published at 6:05 p.m. on 11/26/13:

Manhattan ophthalmologist Emil William Chynn says he's performed approximately 20,000 corrective eye procedures. On Nov. 6, Chynn did something different: he implanted a piece of platinum jewelry beneath the surface of a patient's eye.

Lucy Luckayanko, Chynn's first ornamented patient, is still enjoying her new heart-shaped speck. There was redness near the implant initially, but that's clearing up.

A second patient has decided to have a platinum star inserted in her eye for Christmas, Chynn told U.S. News, but a specific date hasn't been chosen for the operation. Around one person a day is contacting his firm, Park Avenue SafeSight, to express interest in the procedure, which goes for around $3,000, he says.

Chynn isn't entirely focused on profits. Customers who pay full price for a corrective eye operation – around $6,000 – are able to pick a cash-strapped applicant to receive a vision improvement procedure for free.

"A lot of wealthy people do a lot of charity work, but they don't get to see the actual recipient," he said.

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Chynn is also interested in facilitating charity jewelry implants.

"Maybe the media can find somebody who needs some cheering up who wants it done," he said. "I lost one of my houses through the hurricane, so it could be someone who's a little screwed up by Sandy."

The prospective jewelry recipient(s) would need to be OK with the operation being filmed.

"That could be a nice thing for everybody," he said.

To implant the jewelry, Chynn uses tiny scissors to make an incision in the clear surface of an eye, then slides the platinum piece between the clear surface layer and white tissue below. Some of the connective material between the two layers is put on either side of the jewelry to keep it from moving.

The Nov. 6 jewelry implant may be the first non-momentary procedure of its kind performed in the United States. The only other instance of implanted eye-jewelry in the U.S. that Chynn's aware of was performed by a friend of his in Los Angeles around 10 years ago.

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"It was harder to implant than he thought it would be," Chynn said of the California surgeon's attempt.

"I've been following eye-jewelry for a while," he said. "I'm very America-loyal [and] whenever I see something abroad that's being done that's not being done in the U.S., I'm always kind of like, 'We shouldn't be behind in anything.'"

Chynn recently traveled to the Netherlands to learn from an eye-jewelry surgeon who performed hundreds of the implants. Eye-jewelry became a minor fad in Europe a few years ago.

Chynn, who studied at Columbia, Dartmouth, Emory and Harvard, says eye-jewelry implants may yield academic and medical fruits.

For example, Chynn says, gold is often used to weigh down the eyelids of people who cannot close their eyes naturally. It's possible, he said, that platinum would be a superior metal for the job, because it may be more inert and has a greater density.

"I don't want this to be seen as a totally cosmetic, not important, superficial thing," Chynn said. "We're only doing these things to show the world it's safe. There are always ancillary benefits – just like there's a lot of stuff with NASA that trickles down to the rest of the population."

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Other eye experts, however, view eye-jewelry implants with alarm.

Philip Rizzuto, secretary for communications at the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told U.S. News the jewelry "could be potentially blinding."

Rizzuto, a trauma surgeon who teaches at Brown University's medical school, says "one of the significant risks is what's known as a sub-conjunctival hemorrhage or bleeding under the clear conjunctiva, the Saran Wrap of the eye."

"You have to get it to stay somehow," he says. "It's probably flat so it has an edge and that can move and that can damage the eye and that can cut the eye, it would stand to reason."

Updated 11/26/13: An update was appended to the beginning of this article.