Michigan Man Becomes Fourth Person In US To Receive Bionic Eye
April 24, 2014

Michigan Man Becomes Fourth Person In US To Receive Bionic Eye

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

When Michigan resident Roger Pontz lost his eyesight due to a hereditary disease called retinitis pigmentosa, he probably never expected to seen again.

However, Pontz is now seeing faint images of his wife, grandson and cat thanks to a ‘bionic eye’ implanted by doctors at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center in Ann Arbor.

"It's awesome. It's exciting — seeing something new every day," Pontz recently told the Associated Press.

Pontz is one of just four people to have received the artificial vision system from the California-based Medical Products Inc. The system includes a tiny video camera and transmitter built into a pair of glasses. Images from the camera are sent via the transmitter to an array of electrodes on the surface of the retina. The images in the form of electrical pulses stimulate the retina's remaining cells, causing them to relay the images to the optic nerve and on to the brain.

Pontz said his "eyes" allow him to recognize and grab his cat and establish that a flash of light is his grandson running around the house.

Regular check-ups and session with occupational therapist Ashley Howson help Pontz reactivate his long-dormant visual memory and learn methods to maximize his new vision. In one session, Howson gave Pontz white and black plates and told him to wave them back and forth and determine their color.

Similar artificial vision systems have been implanted several-dozen times over the past several years in Europe, and the hope is that it will see comparable results in the US. The University of Michigan facility is one of 12 locations taking on consultations for patients. Prospects for the retinal prosthesis need to be 25 or older with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa progressed to the degree of having "bare light" or no light acuity in both eyes.

Dr. Thiran Jayasundera, who participated in the 4.5-hour surgery on Roger Pontz, is expecting to detail the procedure at an upcoming meeting of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery on Friday in Boston. He calls it a "game-changer."

"I can walk through the house with ease. If that's all I get out of this, it'd be great,” Pontz said.

People coping with blindness face many barriers in life and the California State Independent Living Council recently noted that getting from place to place is one of them.

“I’m always subject to someone else’s timetable, whether I’m using public transit or getting a ride from someone,” said SILC Council Member Jacqueline Jackson, who lost her vision at age 11. “Things have gotten much better with trains and planes because employees have received more training and are more accommodating. With taxies, however, there’s a large trust factor since we can’t see the meter and have to rely on the driver’s honesty.”

For Pontz to receive his regular therapy sessions, his wife Terri must drive the 400-mile round trip from the couple’s home in Reed City, Michigan to the university facility in Ann Arbor. Terri Pontz also regularly helps her husband with his at-home therapy routines.