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Hello and thanks for your question. The cells he was referring to with respect to having vision correction surgery and/or laser surgery would be the cells that lie within the corneal stroma (in other words, the cells that make up the majority of the thickness of the cornea). When the thickness of the cornea is less than a certain amount, it becomes risky to perform corneal refractive surgery on that cornea, for fear that after the surgery is done, the cornea will decompensate and break down. This is likely what your eye doctor was referring to when talking about the vision correction surgery.
When speaking of the cataract surgery and the need to possibly have a corneal surgery after the cataract surgery, your surgeon is referring to the corneal endothelial cells. These cells act as the pump in the cornea, to pump fluid out of the cornea that it takes on from inflammation related to the surgery. If you have a decreased # XXXXX these cells, then it puts you at risk for having the corneal inflammation from the surgery not clear after the surgery, which would then require you to have a corneal transplant surgery after the cataract surgery.
Perhaps you may need a second opinion to have these measurements taken again and have an evaluation with another surgeon to see whether their findings are consistent with the evaluation that you've already had.
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An ophthalmologist (not an optometrist) would be able to determine what the # XXXXX thickness of the corneal endothelial cells was only if they had a special instrument that measures that. Specular microscopy is the way to determine this. Many corneal specialists have this type of testing equipment as would an eye department at a tertiary care medical center.
However, most comprehensive ophthalmologists can do a test called corneal pachymetry that can measure the thickness of the cornea which can indirectly comment on the function of those cells. It can be an indirect marker of the # XXXXX function of the corneal endothelial cells.