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Judge's eyesight remains imperfect

Twenty surgeries and one settled lawsuit later, Lynn Tepper sees three moons instead of five at night. But it's still a strain to see, she says.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
Published April 8, 2005

DADE CITY - Every time Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper gazes up at the moons, there's no escaping it.

Her vision has been permanently damaged, she said.

"I used to love looking at the night sky," she said. "Now I get a little bitter."

Instead of seeing one moon, she used to see five. Now it's down to three. There's also the sensitivity to light, the poor night vision, the awkward depth perception, the blurring, streaking and ghosting effects.

Every day is a strain, whether it's reading legal filings on paper, doing research on her laptop or trying to see faces in the jury box. Her vision has rapidly deteriorated since her first Lasik refractive surgery operation in December 2000.

That was 20 operations ago.

"I can't overcome it," she said. "I live with imperfect, significantly imperfect, vision."

Tepper, 52, first sought help for her declining eyesight, but said that help instead worsened her condition. Before the surgeries she had 20/400 vision and was both nearsighted and farsighted. And now?

"No one can even begin to explain how bad it's become," she said.

It was so bad that Tepper sued the doctor who first performed Lasik operations on both her eyes in 2000, when she first tried to fix her failing eyesight. Her complaint demanded damages in excess of $15,000, which put it in Circuit Court.

"You know how you read about all those cheap Lasik surgeries?" Tepper said. "Well, I paid $2,500 an eye. I thought I was getting the Cadillac of surgeries."

The judge's lawsuit, filed in Pinellas County against Dr. John Michaelos of Clearwater and St. Michael's Eye and Laser Institute, was settled last week for an undisclosed sum.

"With the suit settled and the parties having settled amicably," Michaelos' attorney Jeff Goodis said, "I think it's best not to comment."

Tepper said she underwent 19 procedures under Michaelos between December 2000 and April 2002. They included multiple operations using the procedures Lasik and PRK, or photorefractive keratectomy.

Her right eye was her dominant eye. Not that her current ophthalmologist, Zephyrhills' Dr. Ahad Mahootchi, can tell now. "He said he can't believe that was my dominant eye," she said.

Under Mahootchi she underwent her 20th eye procedure in December - cataract surgery with bifocal crystal lens implants. That surgery has improved her vision, she said.

Voted onto the bench in 1988, Tepper noted in her lawsuit that the condition has taken away her independence. She cannot drive alone and cannot drive at night. She has had to rely on friends for rides. She has trouble reading. She has had to cut down on speaking engagements and writing articles.

She doesn't wear contact lens or bifocals, the judge said, but trifocals.

So what gets her through the day?

"My brain does a pretty good job of that," she said.

[Last modified April 8, 2005, 00:33:18]


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