STILLWATER, Minn. - Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people over 55. For those with end stage disease, there has been virtually no chance of seeing what is directly in front of them again.
But a new device, an implantable telescope, is changing that.
Retired nurse, 76-year-old JoAnn Zorn, had the device implanted in her left eye this summer. Now she has a critical part of her vision back.
If you look at her left eye, you can see it. It twinkles. Light reflects off the tiny telescope implanted where her lens once was. It has brought back the central vision she lost to macular degeneration.
Dr. Stephen Lane of Associated Eye Care in Stillwater explains, "The area that allows for central vision to watch TV, read a book, drive a car is called the macula. When that macula is destroyed by an age related process, there's essentially a hole in people's vision."
While most of us see clearly what's in front of us, those with macular degeneration see around the periphery but not what is directly in front of them.
Zorn said, "With the blind spot in both sides, both eyes, I would really have to get up close to see someone's face."
Dr. Lane implants the telescopes and said Zorn was the first person to get one in Minnesota following FDA approval.
When implanted, the telescope, by CentraSight, magnifies central vision tremendously, kind of like bringing the images forward. So while there is still a blind spot, patients see much more of what is directly ahead of them. They no longer see the periphery. Lane said it is kind of like tunnel vision.
He said it does take months of rehabilitation to learn to use each eye differently. He said that the "Non-telescope eye basically sees things in the periphery and the telescope eye sees things centrally."
Zorn went through months of rehab at Courage Center and now has the hang of it.
She once broke her kneecap because she couldn't see the stairs. Now she has a spring it her step. Demonstrating her new vision, Zorn stepped off the curb and back onto it with ease.
And it's all thanks to that new twinkle in her eye.
With a smile, she said, "I'm a new kid!"
The implantable telescope does not treat macular degeneration or stop its progression. It is simply a vision aid.
Zorn can watch TV, pour a cup of coffee, work on the computer and read again. But Dr. Lane said patients with this device cannot drive.
Currently, it is for people with macular degeneration in both eyes who have not had previous cataract surgery.
While the device itself costs $15,000 alone, not including the cost of surgery and rehabilitation, Dr. Lane said it is covered by Medicare.
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