ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — Without warning, Patricia Maggard lost the sight in her left eye in September 2012. Six months later, a severe case of dry macular degeneration robbed the vision in her right eye, too.
She was determined not to be blind for long. In February, her eye surgeon, Dr. Stuart Tims, who had installed a tiny telescope in her right eye, told her she had healed beautifully. She already knew that because she was reading again, and most importantly, she could see her husband’s face.
“I hadn’t seen him in three years,” she said, joking that he looked a little older.
Maggard was Tims’ first, and so far only, patient to receive a relatively new telescope implant designed to restore vision to the center blind spot that occurs in late-stage macular degeneration. The Vistar Eye Center surgeon said it was the first such surgery in the region.
Maggard said she wants others to know about it but worries that since they can’t read the paper they might miss this story.
“Somebody needs to read this for them and tell them,” she said.
Maggard, 74, lives with her husband of 26 years in Narrows. They used to grow all of their food. “I had to stop gardening because I couldn’t tell corn from a weed,” she said.
Jim Maggard still must drive his wife on errands, but “I can shop, read labels and roll a buggy without running into anyone,” she said.
When she first lost her sight, she went to a West Virginia optometrist, who told her she had cataracts. She made an appointment to see Tims at Vistar’s Wytheville office. His diagnosis differed. She had severe dry macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is a fairly common condition as people age. As its name implies, the macula, a part of the retina, breaks down and no longer can send images to the brain. Those affected might see wavy instead of straight lines, or have blurry spots. In advanced cases, center vision is blacked out.
“You can’t see faces,” Maggard said. She also couldn’t work appliances because she could not see the buttons.
She was referred to the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, but she declined the service.
“I was going to do this on my own,” she said. She tried to get into research studies at Duke and Wake Forest before calling the agency and finding out about CentraSight’s device. Her brother had sent her an article about it, but, of course, she couldn’t read it, or see well enough to dial a phone and find out more from the maker. Her husband placed the call, and CentraSight referred her back to Tims, who by this time had learned about the device.
The surgery is similar to cataract surgery, though slightly more complicated. Tims removed Maggard’s cataract, but instead of embedding a lens, he placed a tiny telescope. Maggard then had to learn how to use it. With it, her center vision is magnified. With her other eye, she retains peripheral sight. Though much more involved, the brain-training process is similar to the one mono-vision contact wearers go through in learning to use one eye to see things that are close and the other to see things far away.
“It’s not for everyone,” Tims said. Patients need to be motivated and intelligent enough to learn how to use it.
And they can’t have undergone cataract surgery, a criterion that knocks many prospects out of contention. So far, Maggard is the only patient who made it through the screening process. Tims said CentraSight is working to develop a device that would work with patients who have had cataract surgery.
“That would be a pretty significant development,” he said.
For Maggard, the tiny telescope has been significant.
“Just to be able to see your face while we talk is terrific,” she said.
Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com
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