TAMPA - The Lasik Vision
Institute, also known as LVI, offers rock-bottom rates on laser eye
surgery. But when some patients came forward with serious medical
problems, ABC Action News began investigating. What senior
investigator Mike Mason found will open your eyes like no other
investigation he's done.
Judy Sanders had Lasik surgery last year at the Lasik Vision
Institute on Fowler Avenue in Tampa.
"I said, 'What's that smell?' Burning, it smelled like hair
burning; it was my eyelashes," she recalled. "It was very painful,
She went back to LVI for a second surgery; it didn't help.
Judy is a nursing supervisor at a hospital emergency room. She
has to keep a close eye on her patients, but now she has a hard time
staying focused as her vision has gotten worse.
Judy is not alone. Six patients all had their surgeries done on
the same day at LVI, and every one of them got a terrible eye
Back in July, Mike Mason tracked down the company's president,
Marco Musa, at the company's south Florida headquarters. Musa never
answered Mike's questions about the infections.
"If you have a group of people who had an infection on the same
day, that is a terrible thing," Mike observed.
I am glad I was able to answer all of your questions and again all I
can say is what's important to the public out there is the fact that
the Lasik Vision Institute offers the very best service, the most
qualified surgeons, and the overall very lowest price in the entire
nation," Musa replied.
July, Marco Musa spouted sales pitches instead of answering
Action News did hear from LVI's attorney. Back in July, he blamed
the infections on an airborne virus in the surgery room. But a few
months later, that attorney changed his story, claiming the problems
all six patients experienced were instead the result of a
"Well, all I can tell you is, from my experience, from our
research, and everyone we've talked to, is that LVI offers the very
most experienced surgeons," Marco Musa insisted.
But Dr. Thomas Teather might disagree. He was LVI's national
medical director until last year. He left in disgust, and now he's
exposing the company's practices.
"I had continuous heated discussions over it with the management
and I lost a lot of sleep over it," Dr. Teather recalled.
Teather says LVI tried to make money by selling medical products
to patients who did not need them.
happened to Judy Sanders. LVI wanted to sell her punctal plugs.
Thomas Teather quit working at LVI out of concerns over
fraudulent and egregious practices.
Such plugs are normally only prescribed to patients who develop
dry eyes after surgery, but Judy got the sales pitch even before she
had Lasik, and not from her surgeon, either. A salesperson with no
medical background said she needed them.
"They said they don't guarantee anything unless you have those
put in, but I didn't want them," Judy said.
LVI claims only a doctor makes the decision to insert punctal
plugs, and if a patient is offered them by a salesperson, but later
does not need them, the plugs won't be inserted.
But Dr. Teather was so concerned about the sale of punctal plugs,
he wrote a memo to LVI officials last year, warning them "the
pre-operative insertion of punctal plugs in persons with normal eyes
is fraudulent," and operating on patients who have the plugs could
cause infections like bacterial keratitis.
Teather also wrote that a "national sales program designed to
promote the preoperative insertion of punctal plugs would be
But LVI officials ignored Dr. Teather's warnings and went ahead
with a national contest. The incentive was a $500 bonus for selling
punctal plugs to 50 percent or more of all patients having surgery.
"There was significant pressures placed on patient counselors and
technicians to sell punctal plugs to everybody," Dr. Teather told
Mike showed the memos to Dr. Wayne Bizer, a Lasik surgeon and
spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
think anyone would look at that and say that that's disadvantageous
to the patient, that's self-serving to the institution, in my humble
opinion. And I think -- I'm not an expert, I'm not a lawyer -- but I
think it's a violation of Florida law," Dr. Bizer said.
Dr. Bizer may be right. The state attorney general is now
investigating whether LVI's sales practices amount to racketeering.
"We're looking into possible RICO situations," Attorney General
Charlie Crist confirmed.
Despite what the attorney general said, LVI's attorney said he
doesn't believe the state really is conducting an investigation.
When Mike went back to LVI's headquarters to get their response
to the latest allegations, he didn't get a very warm reception.
The Musas never came out to answer Mike's questions; instead,
they called the cops. Police gave Mike a warning for trespassing,
and even took his fingerprints.
But LVI and the Musas could soon get the same treatment.
"We have reopened an investigation into this case, again thanks
to your hard work and a lot of people coming forward, frankly,"
Still, a criminal investigation can't reverse the damage done to
victims like Judy Sanders.
"I didn't gain anything by it. I lost and lost and lost," she
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