By Chris Willard Liza Hamm
September 22, 2008 12:00 PM

During his first year at Harvard Law School in 2001, Isaac Lidsky often found himself taking heat from his friends. “They’d say, ‘Why were you such a jerk to so-and-so the other night? He came up to say hi, and you completely ignored him,'” recalls Lidsky. Sure, as a teen he had starred on TV’s Saved by the Bell: The New Class and had enrolled at Harvard as an undergrad at the mere age of 16—but an inflated ego wasn’t the reason for his brush-offs. Instead, Lidsky explains now, “I just couldn’t see the guy.”

Lidsky, now 29, had begun to lose his sight—a fate he knew could not be avoided. When he was 13 years old, doctors had told him he had the rare degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, which eventually leads to blindness. At first, the young Lidsky didn’t dwell on the diagnosis. “It was easy to kick the can down the road emotionally and say, ‘I’ll deal with this later,'” he explains. And as a child actor with more than 100 commercials on his résumé (he debuted in a diaper ad at 6 weeks old), he was thrilled when, soon after learning about his condition, he landed a starring role on Saved by the Bell: The New Class—a spinoff of the hit Saturday morning show. At 13, the Florida native moved to Los Angeles and loved the attention. “I was getting recognized by people,” he says. “It was an incredible experience.”

But within a year, Lidsky’s role on the show was eliminated, and the reality of his situation began to take hold. Lidsky and his three siblings had been tested for retinitis pigmentosa after Daria, one of his older sisters, accidentally drove her car straight into traffic. The verdict? Three of them—including Isaac—had the hereditary disease. Though Lidksy had no symptoms at first, he knew that would change. “I just thought, I have my head above water now, but how much worse is it going to get?” he recalls.

Having reconsidered his acting options, Lidsky decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, Carlos, and become a lawyer. “I always knew I wanted to think like my father,” he says. But letting go of fame didn’t mean sacrificing ambition. “Clerking for the Supreme Court has long been my No. 1 professional goal.”

Determined not to let his disease derail his plan, Lidsky, who can now see only large, blurred shapes, learned to use a cane and special computer software while he attended law school. Postgraduation, he applied for a Supreme Court clerkship three times before getting hired this summer by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to work for her and Ruth Bader Ginsberg over the next year. He is reportedly the first blind clerk in the Supreme Court’s history. “It’s literally a dream come true,” he says. “I pinch myself that I get to go there every day.”

Married since 2004 to Dorothy, an art history student, Lidsky is hopeful that his drive to succeed will soon benefit others. Along with Dorothy and friend Erich Wasserman, Lidsky started Hope for Vision, a national charity to help raise money and find cures for blinding diseases. “My goal is 20/20 vision by 2020,” he says. But even if things don’t change quite that soon, says Lidsky, “I’ve been blessed with a certainty that there’s no need for this to slow me down.”