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Roger Pontz, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, regained his vision with the help of "bionic eye" implantation. He has been blind for the most part of his life. Now with the new high technology he managed to regain his eyesight to catch a small glimpse of his wife and grandson.
Pontz shared his excitement during the recent medical visit to the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, "It's awesome. It's exciting - seeing something new every day."
For now, Pontz is one out of four people who have gone through this procedure in the US. The Food and Drug Administration has agreed on using artificial retina only last year. The fifth surgery is scheduled to take place next month.
Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited illness that makes people lose their vision due to the death of the light-sensitive retinal cells. First, patients lose side and night vision and later central vision as well, which can result in almost complete blindness.
However, not every single person who has been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa can benefit from the "bionic eye." Out of 100,000 people with this illness in the US more than 10,000 people have vision low enough to undergo the procedure. Out of those about 7,500 people are eligible for the surgery.
The artificial implant in the eye of a patient allows the system with the use of a small video camera to transmit vision through a pair of glasses. With the help of the camera images are moved though electrical pulses to the surface of retina. The pulses stimulate healthy cells, causing them to move the signal to the optic nerve. From optic nerve the vision information moves to the brain, where it is transmitted to the patterns of light, which allows the patient to regain some visual images.
Pontz claims that after the surgery he can identify the forms and moving objects, can see the silhouettes of people. Pontz's wife, Terry is amazed with the significant improvement of her husband's vision.
"I said something I never thought I'd say: 'Stop staring at me while I'm eating," Terri Pontz said.
Pontz addes: "I can walk through the house with ease. If that's all I get out of this, it'd be great."
She drives her husband practically 200 miles to the medical center for check ups. In Ann Arbor they help Roger Pontz to exercise his visual memory and learn special techniques to train his new eyesight.
For the past couple of years, artificial retina surgeries were successfully conducted in Europe. In order to sign for the procedure in the US the candidates are supposed to be 25 or older with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa.
Dr. Thiran Jayasundera, one out of two doctors who conducted the surgery on Roger Pontz, is going to discuss his experience and progress at the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery meeting on Friday in Boston.
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