Michigan Man is Among the First in the US to Receive a ‘Bionic Eye’

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Roger Pontz was robbed of his vision due to a degenerative eye disease.

After being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Pontz had been nearly blind for years now. But now, thanks to a high-tech, surgical implantation, he was able to gain enough of his eyesight, allowing him to obtain small glimpses of his wife, grandson, and cat.
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“It’s awesome. It’s exciting — seeing something new every day,” Pontz said during a recent appointment at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. The 55-year-old, who was once a competitive weightlifter and hard working factory worker, was one of the fortunate four in the U.S. to receive this artificial retina since the FDA(Food and Drug Administration) approved of its use last year.

This artificial implant in Pontz’s left eye was developed by Second Sight, including a mini video camera and transmitter enclosed in a pair of glasses. The images are converted into series of electrical pulses transmitted wirelessly to the electrodes on the retina. They in turn stimulate the retina’s remaining healthy cells, allowing them to relay signals to the optic nerve.

Pontz refers to these glasses as his “eyes” which allows him to see and grab his cat and follow the movement and existence of his grandson. “I said something I never thought I’d say: ‘Stop staring at me while I’m eating,'” Terri Pontz said.

This procedure was performed several times in Europe in the past few years and expects to produce a mirror success here in the U.S., where the University of Michigan leads as one of the 12 centers open to consultations for patients. Those in need must be at least 25-years of age or older with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa that has regressed to the point of no light preception in both eyes.

Pontz agrees: “I can walk through the house with ease. If that’s all I get out of this, it’d be great.”

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