Eye implant gives woman back her sight

January 5, 2011 9:46:16 AM PST
Jo Anne Preece, 84, has macular degeneration.

"It's amazing, we all take our vision for granted, and it could be gone in an instant, you know?" she said.

It didn't just steal her sight, but also her freedom.

"I couldn't see oncoming traffic, scared me to death so I stopped driving," Preece said.

"Someone with end-stage macular degeneration, when they are looking, for example, they would see shoulders maybe your hair, but wouldn't be able to see your face," said Dr. Kathryn A. Colby, an ophthalmic surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.

Preece's view of the world is changing thanks to a pea-sized telescope implanted in her eye. Two high-powered lenses magnify what she sees.

The implant is put in just one eye. Doctors make a small incision in the cornea, then take out the cataract or damaged lens and replace it with the telescopic lens. Patients are sedated but awake for the surgery.

"You actually have to train your brain to use the telescope eye to see the magnified central image and use the other eye for peripheral vision," Colby said.

Doctors say after the surgery, patients go through vision rehabilitation. In a study of 200 end-stage macular degeneration patients who had the implant, nearly 70 percent saw an improvement in their vision of three lines or more after a year.

"It changed my life. I don't know where I would be if it hadn't been for that," Preece said.

Doctors say they are not giving people back 20-year-old eyes, but the device is helping people see clearly enough to do daily tasks like driving. The device itself costs $15,000 and is typically covered by insurance.

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