What had previously only been imagined in science fiction became reality for a Pollock Pines woman earlier this year as she became the first recipient in northern California of a telescopic eye.
Surgically implanted by UC Davis cornea specialists, a telescope smaller than a pea was placed in the left eye of 89-year-old Virginia Bane by Dr. Mark Mannis and Dr. Jennifer Li.
Bane was selected for the surgery because she suffers from macular degeneration in both eyes. According to UC Davis, she is the first person in Northern California to receive the implant and is only one of 50 other individuals in the nation who have received it so far.
Bane said she was first diagnosed with macular degeneration 20 years ago. But even with that diagnosis, she could still drive and do everyday tasks. However five years ago a growth took place over her cornea and her vision became increasingly fuzzy and unclear.
As a result she had to stop driving, couldn’t read, and could no longer engage in her hobby of watercolor painting and decorating gourds.
“With macular degeneration you lose your colors and can’t see details,” said Bane. Everything gets fuzzy and light-colored.”
As her condition progressed, her son began researching the subject. She eventually ended up at UC Davis where she learned about the telescope after Dr. Li examined her and asked her if she’d be interested in the implant.
Li said Bane was selected because she was the first to make it through the pre-operation assessment. “She came through with flying colors not only physically but because she was motivated,” Li said.
On May 8, Li and Mannis did outpatient surgery on Bane. Bane said it only took a little over an hour and was painless. During the surgery, they took out the cataract in her left eye and replaced it with a telescopic lens. She said they only do one eye because the telescope is used for central vision and the patient loses peripheral vision in that eye as a result.
Following the surgery, Bane had to go through therapy so she could learn how to use the scope. She said part of the therapy consisted of training the brain to find and use the scope. Weekly therapy sessions were held at UC Davis but she also did exercises at home.
Since the surgery she said she can now read the buttons on the microwave and the oven. She still has to wear glasses but no longer has to use a magnifier.
“I started seeing things I haven’t seen before — colors, faces, eyes. Things I hadn’t seen for years,” she said.
Now with the help of her new eye, Bane intends to start painting again and enthusiastically endorses others looking into getting the implant.
“No one can tell that I have a scope in my eye. There’s just a twinkle and that’s all. I would recommend it absolutely. The surgery was easy, there was no pain. If it helps someone else, it’s wonderful.”
According to UC Davis, the telescope is the first medical device to be implanted inside the eye for patients missing their central vision due to end-stage AMD which is the most advanced form of age-related macular degeneration. UC Davis Health System’s Eye Center is one of the few places in California and the nation to offer the innovative procedure.
VisionCare manufactures the device but the treatment program for using it is called CentraSight. Dr. Li said that currently there are no other FDA approved devices available that can be surgically implanted for those with macular degeneration.
The telescope implant operates like the telephoto lens of a camera, magnifying images so patients can see them better. The images are then projected onto the healthy area of the retina not affected by AMD.
According to Dr. Li, Bane is the only one who has received the telescopic eye to date at UC Davis although a little over a dozen people are currently being assessed for the procedure.
One unique aspect of the evaluation for the program includes the ability to simulate, prior to surgery, what a person may expect to see once the telescope is implanted to determine if the improvement meets the patient’s expectations.
It’s estimated that two million Americans have advanced forms of AMD with associated vision loss. Over a half million of these people have end-stage AMD and may be candidates for the procedure. Medicare covers the cost of the device, which is $15,000, plus the cost of surgery.
“As physicians, it’s very exciting to be a part of this,” said Dr. Li. “For the first time we’ve had something we could offer patients who are debilitated by this condition.”
Nonetheless, the device is not for everyone. The minimum age to receive the scope is 75 years. Dr. Li said that may change in the future but for now that is the age limit set by the FDA. There are other criteria patients have to meet as well given that they must be motivated to work with their surgeon and vision training specialists from six to 12 weeks to help them learn to adapt to their new vision. Li said that in a few rare cases the device had to be removed because the patient couldn’t learn to use it.
In addition there are some risks associated with the device including possible postoperative inflammation, raised intraocular pressure, corneal swelling, and possible compromised corneal health. But against these risks has to be weighed the opportunity to regain some portion of one’s original vision.
Patients and physicians interested in learning more about the telescope implant and treatment program can do so by calling the UC Davis Health System Eye Center at 916-734-6074 or by visiting the Website at ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/eyecenter/. Other resources are the Society for the Blind firstname.lastname@example.org at 916-452-8271 or CentraSight at CentraSight.com and 1-877-99SIGHT.