A 70-year-old Salt Lake woman who lost her right eye because of an infection after cataract surgery has urged a U.S. senator to help others.

"I hope you do something so this kind of thing doesn't happen to anyone else," Isabella McGee told Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., who convened the hearing of the Senate Committee on Aging this week.McGee said her surgery was properly performed by a surgeon, but the follow-up care by an optometrist resulted in a failure to properly diagnose the infection.

"He thought I had something else," she said. "Because of the untreated infection, they had to take my eyeball out."

Heinz, in a statement, said his special committee is investigating whether kickbacks to optometrists by ophthalmologists for referring patients is resulting in unnecessary cataract surgery.

The senator said cataract surgery is one of the fastest-growing areas of medical care for the elderly, accounting for more than $1.4 billion of Medicare costs in 1986.

"The big cataract profits come from creating a network of optometrists to maintain a constant flow of referrals to the surgeon and by minimizing the amount of time the surgeon spends with any particular patient," Heinz said.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology, in a statement to the committee read by Dr. Hunter Stokes of Washington, said present Medicare practices encourage referral kickbacks and allow optometrists to take over post-operative cataract care.

"We are concerned because the post-operative period represents the time of highest risk to the patient for complications which are best treated by the operating surgeon," Stokes said. "Despite claims by optometrists that they can `treat' patients, they do not have the training to determine the implications of various post-operative conditions."

Eric Kriss, president of MediVision Inc., of Boston, disagreed, insisting that optometrists can be integrated into surgical eye care delivery with high quality results.

Since 1984, he said, "MediVision physicians have performed roughly 100,000 cataract implant procedures (and) we attribute this unprecedented record to the high quality of care provided both within each (of the 30 centers in 17 states) and by local optometrists serving as each patient's primary care eye doctor. Our integrated system clearly works."