After losing his vision to a degenerative eye disease, a 68-year-old Minnesota grandfather of 10 can now make out the forms of his wife and family for the first time in a decade, NBC News reported. And it's all thanks to one fascinating piece of technology.
Allen Zderad's eyesight began to deteriorate 20 years ago due to a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which over time causes damage to the retina, the thin layer of tissue toward the back of your eye that sends information to the brain through your optic nerve.
Raymond Iezzi Jr., MD, a Mayo Clinic researcher and ophthalmologist, had been treating Zderad's grandson, who's in the early stages of the disease, which is caused by genetic defects and is often passed on through families. Knowing Zderad's eyesight had been lost to the disease, Dr. Iezzi suggested that the grandfather take part in a clinical trial for a device called the Second Sight Argus II, better known as a bionic eye. “Tell your grandfather I’d like to see him,” Dr. Iezzi told the boy, according to a Mayo Clinic release.
The older Zderad turned out to be a perfect candidate for the device. How it works: a tiny chip with 60 electrodes is implanted into the retina. Then a pair of glasses with a camera and wearable computer send light wave signals to the optic nerve via the implants, essentially doing the work of the retina, NBC News reported.
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Though Zderad still can't see detail of faces or images, he can make out human forms and outlines of everyday objects like chairs and tables, according to a Mayo Clinic press release. The doctors say he'll even be able to make his way through a crowd of people without using a cane.
"It's crude, but it's significant," Zderad says, through tears, in the NBC News video. "It'll work!"
Zderad will have to attend hours of physical therapy and instruction to learn how to get the most out of it, but for now, the best part is being able to see his loved ones again, especially his wife. It wasn't too hard for him to spot her out as soon as the device booted up.
“It’s easy,” he said in the Mayo Clinic's release, “she’s the most beautiful one in the room.”