Meet The Physicians: Dr. Deborah DiStefano

Dr. Deborah DiStefano, Ophthalmologist and Founder of DiStefano Eye Center.

“Technology keeps pushing us forward.  Now, you don’t have to go to Atlanta to get the equipment and expertise necessary for the latest in vision correction and eye care. We can do the same thing here in Chattanooga.”–Dr. DiStefano

Instead of being an internationally recognized Ophthalmologist, Dr. Deborah DiStefano could have been blind herself.

Dr. DiStefano was born prematurely, and at that time, preemies were kept in incubators with 100% pure oxygen. Doctors didn’t realize the oxygen saturation would damage eyes that were still developing.

“They told my parents that they didn’t know if I would make it,” she said. Her parents’ friends would take turns holding young Deborah during her first days, likely going against conventional wisdom of keeping her in the incubator. The human contact helped her thrive—and by taking her out of the incubator—ultimately preserved her sight. Some babies in the incubators around Deborah went blind.

So Dr. DiStefano was driven from an early age to be interested in eyesight. Her father was a doctor and her mother a nurse, so she grew up in a medical family. In college, she became involved in research involving an electron microscope, which furthered her interest in vision. Though admission standards were high, she was accepted into the Ophthalmology program in medical school.

Dr. DiStefano is a Board-Certified Ophthalmologist. She received her Ophthalmology specialty training at The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and completed a corneal fellowship at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary at Harvard University in Boston. Dr. DiStefano was awarded “Who’s Who In The South and Southeast 1983-1984 and in 1996-2008, 2011-2012, and again in 2013, “Best Doctors in America” as seen on “60 Minutes.”

Dr. Deborah DiStefano is the area’s first Ophthalmologist to perform LASIK Vision Correction.

Dr. DiStefano was recruited from her Harvard fellowship to Chattanooga to become the Chairperson of the Department of Ophthalmology at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She remained in that position for 10 years. After her tenure with UT, Dr. DiStefano chose to focus on her family and go into private practice. She maintains her educational involvement as an Assistant Clinical Instructor at University of Tennessee, College of Medicine.

Dr. DiStefano’s refractive surgery experience began in 1984 when she performed nearly 8,000 Radial Keratotomy procedures, more commonly known as RK. In fact, she was one of the early practitioners of refractive surgery.

“It was exciting,” she recalled. “We were opening up a whole new field of vision correction. It changed how our profession approached vision care. And the technology keeps getting better.”

Since the FDA approval of the Excimer laser, RK gave way to PRK (Photorefractive keratectomy) and more recently, LASIK. Dr. DiStefano’s laser experience began with the approval of the excimer laser in 1996. She has performed well over 20,000 laser procedures for myopia (nearsightedness), astigmatism, and hyperopia (farsightedness). Dr. DiStefano offers multiple technologies to personalize the choices in vision correction procedures for individual patient needs, including blade-free Custom LASIK, which includes the state-of-the-art IntraLase laser.

“Think about it,” she said. “Today, in less than five minutes, we can now perform laser surgery that is life changing. We can help people free themselves from having to wear glasses. They can swim and take part in a wide range of new activities. They don’t have to worry about their vision at night should they have a fire at home or encounter an intruder. They can see clearly all the time.”

She also noted the importance of the laser with improving vision for cataract patients.

“We have new replacement lenses for cataract patients that help patients see both near and far,” she said. “Combined with laser assistance, it’s often possible to restore a patient’s sight to the same quality he or she had at age 30.”

Dr. DiStefano is a member of the American Medical Association, International Society of Refractive Surgery, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, and American Academy of Ophthalmology. She volunteers and works closely with several organizations including the Y-Cap Youth Program, and serves on the board for St. Nicholas School. She is also on the board of the Helene DiStefano Fund, an organization founded to assist moms with cancer who are in financial crisis.

Dr. DiStefano was invited to be a guest vision expert for Ivanhoe.com as well as being a featured Ophthalmologist on the website AllAboutVision.com. Both sites are sources for vision and health information for patients and doctors on the Internet.

Dr. Deborah DiStefano Consulting with LASIK Patient.

Dr. DiStefano is the Director and Founder of the DiStefano’s Skin Solutions Medical Spa. Patients may receive a number of medically-approved cosmetic procedures, including Latisse, eye lifts, Botox and other injectibles along with a full complement of additional spa treatments and skin care products.

Dr. DiStefano resides in Chattanooga with her husband, and son. She enjoys her involvement with her son’s many activities. They all enjoy boating and vacationing on the Gulf. And she remains excited about the future of Ophthalmology.

“We keep moving forward,” she said. “Having Dr. Ridner as part of our practice is a tremendous asset. He’s an excellent surgeon and has been instrumental in helping bring in our new technology. Now, you don’t have to go to Atlanta to get the equipment and expertise necessary for the latest in vision correction and eye care. We can do everything here in Chattanooga.”

LASIK surgery changed my life. I'm more productive and more active than ever. I wish I'd done it sooner. Dr. Distefano and her staff were amazing!

Roger L.

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