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Dr. Christine Lim, a veterinary ophthalmologist at the U, shows off an image of her cat, Mickey.

Curt Brown, Star Tribune

Eye to eye with a veterinary ophthalmologist

  • March 31, 2012 - 9:47 PM

Ever notice how even the most exotic jobs can sound downright mundane when you talk to the people who work them? Take Christine Lim, the only ophthalmologist at the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Medical Center.

After studying animal eyes in Canada and California, she moved here a couple of years ago. Among her first tasks: Gazing into the eye of the tiger, namely a Como Zoo tiger whose eyes she examined with her hand-held lighted scope and without any sedatives.

"He was in his cage and he stunk," Lim said with a shrug.

Ho-hum.

She's also performed cataract surgery on a bald eagle and treated rabbits, monkeys, lions and lizards.

Every spring, Lim is among 200 North American veterinary ophthalmologists who offers free eye screenings for service dogs. More than 10,000 drug-sniffers, police dogs, search and rescue hounds and guide dogs have taken advantage of the program across the country the past four years. Registration starts April 2 for complimentary screenings in May. (For more information, go to www.acvoeyeexam.org/2012/animals/main.shtml).

"Last year, we saw a few dogs a week," Lim said. "And, fortunately, we found nothing vision-threatening."

Cleo, a 2-year-old black German shepherd, was among the pooches Lim checked out.

"She did a super thorough job and it was just like a human eye exam," said Cleo's owner, Jamie Lamprecht, who trained her to be a search-and-rescue dog. "Dr. Lim dilated Cleo's eyes, turned off the lights and used a new scanner to detect any scratches or issues and, luckily, found none."

They'll both be back for a screening this spring. Lim says the exams check everything from tear production to eye pressure -- "without the poof test people get."

"We don't use chins rests or eye charts," she said, relying instead on tiny hand-held microscopic lighted gadgets. "It all depends on trying to get the dog sitting still. We shine a light into the eye -- like we do with human babies who can't talk -- and see how well the light comes back."

Most dogs, she said, are neither near- or far-sighted. It is possible, although rare, to fit dogs with contact lenses or prescription goggles. She checks for glaucoma, cataracts and eyelid issues.

Last year, she removed a tiny tumor from a guard dog's eye with a grafting surgery. He healed up well enough to return to the canine unit.

She dispelled a common belief that dogs are colorblind, saying they can indeed detect color, it's simply not as vibrant as the rainbows we see.

A native of Deep River, Ontario, Lim grew up loving animals and eyeballs -- "both are just so beautiful."

Her father is a nuclear physicist and her mother is a librarian with a history degree. She recently married a former journalist turned Federal Reserve banker. They live in Uptown with Mickey, her 18-year-old cat, whose photo she proudly displays on her phone.

CURT BROWN

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