Mini-telescope implant helps macular degeneration patients

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A new tool could help patients with macular degeneration recover their eyesight.

Fifteen million Americans suffer from macular degeneration, making it the leading cause of blindness in this country. It usually strikes those over 50 years old. There's no cure, but a major medical breakthrough could help patients see again.

When 80-year-old Nancy Shively started losing her vision five years ago, it was a devastating blow to her independence.

"I used to read. Before this I was reading two or three books a week," said Shively. "I live on a farm at the foot of the Blue Ridge. I'm very anxious to plant a garden again. I can't see my flowers."

She was diagnosed with the dry form of macular degeneration. The condition slowly robs patients of vision from the middle of the eye. The Roanoke native hasn't seen the faces of her family members in five years.

"I can't see their faces. I can't see your face. I can't see his face (our photographer). I can see how tall you are. I can see your blonde," said Shively to our reporter.

A ground breaking new procedure is slowly changing her life. Shively traveled all the way to Richmond to the VCU Medical Center to see eye specialist Dr. William Benson.

"It can change their life. What we're really trying to do is offer them more independence," said Dr. Benson of the groundbreaking surgery.

Shively is only the second person in Virginia to have a miniature telescope surgically implanted into her eye.

"If you hold up your finger, it's actually smaller than your fingertip and the entire telescope will fit right at the tip of your finger," said Dr. Benson.

The Food and Drug Administration approved device magnifies the area that is blocked and projects it onto the healthy retina.

"Now, the patients can use that healthy rim of retina to develop functional vision and see things they couldn't see in the past," said Benson.

It's not a quick fix. It requires intense rehabilitation to retrain the brain how to use the telescope.

"Oh yes, it is life changing. I wish I could have had it five years ago," said Shively. "I guarantee a year from now I'll be able to see both you."

Dr. Benson has more patients lined up at VCU. Medicare covers the device, but to be eligible you have to be over the age of 75, have the dry form of macular degeneration and you have to be able to see the big "E" on the eye chart.

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