GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Blind for more than 20 years because of degenerative eye disease, a Georgia man now has a new look at life. It’s all thanks to the device doctors are calling the bionic eye.
For the past two decades Walfre Lopez lived in the dark.
“I was around 21 years old when I started to lose my vision,” Lopez told Ivanhoe.
He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease. His son, now 21, was just two years old at the time. His daughter, whom he’s never seen, is now 12. While doctors told Lopez and his family there’s nothing they could do, they never gave up hope.
Lopez is the first patient at the University of Florida Health Shand’s Hospital in Gainesville to get the bionic eye. In a complex surgery by ophthalmologist Gibran Khurshid, a computer chip implanted in the back of the eye interacts with electrodes placed on the eye’s surface, making artificial vision possible with special glasses.
“The special glasses, they have a small high definition camera which captures the images.” Gibran Khurshid, MD, Ophthalmologist at UF Health Eye Center explained. (Read Full Interview)
It’s not vision as Lopez used to know it, but it allows him to see shapes and contrasting images.
Dr. Khurshid continued, “We are giving you a 7th sense and then we teach you how to use it as a vision.”
“After 20 something years, it’s really exciting,” said Lopez.
Tears of joy.
Walfre’s wife, Marioly, said, “Last night I couldn’t sleep because I said, ‘Wow it’s the first day that Walfre can see at least something about me.”
A life-changing procedure.
Doctors say the device is not for everyone. It will only help people suffering from blindness caused by diseases affecting the retina, like retinitis pigmentosa. The FDA first approved retinal implants in 2013. Since then, the devices have improved the vision of nearly 900 people world-wide.
Contributors to this news report include: Sarah Rosario, Field Producer; Dan and Debbie Huntting, Videographers; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.
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TOPIC: BIONIC EYE: WALFRE’S STORY
REPORT: MB #4321
BACKGROUND: Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a rare, genetic disorder that involve the disintegration and loss of cells in the retina. RP occurs as a result of harmful changes in any one of the more than 50 genes that are necessary for cells within the retina called photoreceptors. Mutations and genes can cause the following three things: the gene cannot make the required protein which limits the cell’s function, or the gene produces a protein that is toxic to the cell or leads to an abnormal protein that doesn’t work properly. In all three cases, the result is damage to the photoreceptors. In the beginning stage of RP, rods are more severely affected than cones. Once the rods start to die, people might start experiencing blindness and a decrease in the “visual field” or the area of space that is visible at a given instant without moving the eyes. Eventually, the loss of rods leads to a breakdown and loss of cones. In the later stage of RP, an increase in the death of cones leads to a decrease in a person’s visual field. Thus, an individual will suffer from hardship performing daily living tasks or worse; they are unable to recognize faces and objects.
SYMPTOMS/TREATMENT: RP symptoms include difficulty seeing at night and a loss of side vision. To diagnose RP, a patient must have their retina examined. An ophthalmoscope, a tool that allows for a wider, clear view of the retina will typically reveal abnormal, dark pigment deposits that streak the retina. There is no cure for RP, but there are some services and devices available to help people with vision loss maintain their independence. For children, there are low vision aids, guide dogs, and eye scanning techniques to maximize current vision.
NEW TECHNOLOGY: A new technology called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System will allow people with retinitis pigmentosa the ability to see shapes and perceive the contrast between light and dark objects. The patient undergoes an artificial vision procedure that implants a microelectrode array in the retina. The electrode array then takes over the operation of the unhealthy cells in the eye and sends signals to a camera in the patient’s glasses. This allows a patient to make use of remaining cells to create some stimulation within the retina. However, the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System is not an exact replacement for natural sight.
MORE INFO: Getting the device and procedure can cost upwards of 100 thousand dollars and it’s not always covered by insurance.
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