Vision Change and Saving Your Sight

Published 05/28/10


From common to complex, new techniques that are giving people who've lost sight the chance to see ag


Speaker 1: 163 million American adults wear eyeglasses or contacts lenses, but 11 1/2 million have vision conditions so severe that glasses don't help. We talked to researchers around the country who are setting their sights on saving sight for those who've lost it. Rick: I'm a physician assistant and I was in the Navy doing suturing and like that, that's where I really noticed where I couldn't tie a knot, I couldn't see the end of the knot. Speaker 1: Rick Timmerman is in good company. He's among the 90 million Americans who have noticed a vision change in middle age. The medical term is Presbyopia, an eye condition that makes it difficult to focus on objects close up. Speaker 3: And you can go ahead and lay back. Speaker 1: Clinical trials are now underway, using the tiny implantable lens called Accufocus to restore near vision. Speaker 3: All right, we're starting with the laser... Speaker 1: Using the laser, surgeons make a flap in the cornea, then they place a doughnut shaped lens, thinner than a human hair under the flap. Rick: That looks perfect, I like it. Speaker 1: The implant blocks unfocused light, while a small opening allows focused light to enter, improving what you see close up. Speaker 3: This is the first time that we're able to see beautifully at distance and at near, out of the same eye. Speaker 4: I was helping a friend the other day in his garage, putting a cabinet together and he's looking for screws. He wears glasses and he couldn't find them. I was like "Right there, it is, and I picked one up. There it is." Speaker 1: Russell Delong [SP] had an even more sever vision problem. In fact, four years ago driving a tractor would have been impossible. Russell: I was totally blind, I couldn't see nothing. Speaker 1: Macular degeneration robbed Russell of his sight. Drugs and surgery didn't do much to help. Russell: Everything looked like a real heavy fog. Speaker 5: I'm going to zoom in on your eye... Speaker 1: Then he found Dr. Susan Primo [SP] at Emory University. She uses this computer to map areas of the retina damaged by macular degeneration, and those still in tact. A specialized program then trains the patient to shift his or her vision, using the good cells to see. Dr. Susan: It's really a series of bio feedback training, to get the patient to move in that position that we feel is going to be most sensitive, to give him or her the best vision that is possible. Speaker 1: Russell uses these special glasses to help him read. Russell: I can read just fine. If I look at it it's blank, nothing out there. I turn my head a little bit, I see around the scar tissue, and there the tractor is. Kay: It's amazing. I didn't think I would ever see again. Speaker 1: Nine years ago, Kay Thornton was afflicted with a rare skin condition that severly damaged her cornea. Speaker 7: It's very frustrating, because these patients are blind, because their front part of the eye is scarred down. Speaker 1: Kay underwent a remarkable procedure called Modified Osteo- odonto-keratoprosthesis. Kay: A tooth, out of my mouth, you're going to put it in my eye? They said "Yeah." Speaker 1: Surgeons replaced Kays damaged cornea with moist tissue from inside her mouth. Speaker 7: Then we take the tooth and the bone that communicates with that lining, all the time in the mouth and put it in the eye. Speaker 1: The bone and tooth serve as a base for a prosthetic lens that works in Kays eye like a telescope. Kay: I can see it. Oh my God, I do see it. Speaker 1: As Kay's eye heals, doctors will implant a shell that will make it look more natural. Studies in Europe indicate that the prosthetic lasts up to 10 years. Kay: Rummy on the board. Rummy on the board, I'm out. Speaker 8: I promise I didn't do that on purpose. Speaker 1: From common to rare conditions, three new ways to restore the gift of sight. Kay: There's nothing like you think. I thank God every day.

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