From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Lia de Firmian's eyesight was fading to black. "All I could see was the finger in front of my nose," says the 50-year-old drugstore supervisor from Santa Barbara, Calif. When her vision fell to 30 percent of normal two years ago, she couldn't drive or go for a walk. "I was like a blind person," she says. "I was ready to give up."

Until August, when she underwent a revolutionary new procedure to restore her vision. Using a local anesthetic, Santa Monica ophthalmologist Kerry Assil cut into de Firmian's left eye and inserted a plastic lens behind the cornea, where it acts like a permanent contact lens. The roughly 20-min. surgery—performed 660 times in the U.S.—corrects moderate to severe myopia in patients whose vision is too poor for LASIK surgery (see box). Known by the trade name Verisyse, the lens may one day be approved for those with less-serious impairments as well. "Within 20 years this will become one of the most common surgeries in the world," says Dr. Assil.

The operation is not risk free. In Europe, where it has been in use for a decade, there are rare instances of infections or cataracts; the lens can be removed. But that hasn't stopped Lia de Firmian from abandoning her Coke-bottle glasses. "Before, I didn't know who I was," she says. "Now I look in the mirror and I can see my face."