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Teri Wiss had trouble learning to read.

When she started school, class seating often was arranged alphabetically. Since her last name started toward the end of the alphabet, "I was way in the back in the back corner and couldn't see the blackboard."She had no idea what marks the teacher was writing on the board to represent sounds.

Her father, Don Wiss, was in the Navy and the family moved around a great deal. Through bad luck, she didn't happen to attend a class during the time vision tests were given, until sixth grade. And then the trouble was pinpointed.

Her vision was in the range of 20/500 - that is, she could see at 20 feet what someone with ideal vision could see at 500.

"Then I got glasses and suddenly I could read!" Her discovery of the cause of her learning difficulties was a main reason that she has become a teacher: She has great empathy for kids who don't learn what they should when they're supposed to.

Today she teaches fifth grade at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School, Park City. But ever since her visual handicap was discovered, her parents have felt bad that they didn't find out about it sooner.

Her mother wanted her to have corrective surgery called radial keratotomy, but the operation - in which a scalpel cuts slices into the cornea, the transparent tissue covering the eye - wasn't suitable for her condition.

Then in October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of excimer laser surgery to correct nearsightedness.

In this operation, a laser shaves off a film of tissue from the center of the cornea, reshaping it so that light will be brought to a proper focus on the retina. The retina is the lining of the back of the eyeball, which is covered with light-sensitive cells.

"It was just perfect for my kind of problem," she said of excimer surgery. Her parents, Don and Mace Wiss, gave her an unusual gift: They told her they would pay for the operation.

"Dr. Charlton's name has come up a number of times over the years. He has a good reputation. So I called him and asked if I could take advantage of the free screening. I did that and found I was indeed a good candidate."

Dr. Kevin Charlton and Dr. Thomas E. Clinch recently organized the Laser Eye Site, 4001 S. 700 East, where the state's first excimer laser is used to treat myopia. The operations have been carried out in this state since December, and on Dec. 18 Teri Wiss had one of the first.

"It's turned out beautifully," she said in an interview this week.

"I'll never forget the first morning after the operation - and I have to tell you it was very painful for the first couple of days. I woke up at 7:20. I remember because it was the first time in my life I've ever been able to open my eyes and look at the alarm clock and see what time it was, because usually I had to reach over and stick it right in my face."

She has had the operation on her right eye and now looks forward to having it on the left.

Her vision is sharp and "getting sharper all the time," she said. "It's continually refining itself."

"My right eye was something like 20/500 before the operation and the day after it was 20/50 and now it's 20/40."

She thinks it will continue to improve as her eyesight refines itself. According to Summit Technology, which manufactures the excimer laser, 66 percent of those having the operation have 20/20 vision or better after six months, and the 80.5 percent have sight that fine after one year.

Laser Eye Site leased the Summit laser from the University of Utah. Other than Laser Eye Site, the nearest excimer lasers approved for the operation are in Las Vegas and Denver. Boise may have one eventually, Charlton said.

Laser Eye Site's supporters, investors and partial owners include physicians and optometrists. The actual operations are carried out by ophthalmologists.

When the Deseret News visited the center, Charlton was preparing to operate on patient Amy Schulz. Afterward, he said the procedure, called refractive surgery, went well.

In fact, for the series of operations that the center has been doing, "I think the results have been very good," he said.

"We have a number of surgeons from Logan to Payson, and some out-of-state people, who are affiliated, who are planning to bring cases in to our center now," Charlton added.