Behind the first bionic eye surgery in Houston

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - During the first implant for a bionic eye in Houston, Victoria Lopez spoke with KPRC about what her family hoped would come as a result of her mother’s operation.

Her 61-year-old mother was diagnosed at 17 years old with a disease that left her blind. Lopez said in the last 10 years her mother’s vision completely disappeared.

“She's lost pretty much, pretty much everything. She's not even legally blind, she's just blind at this point,” Lopez explained. “At this point, she's pretty much dependent. She has to have somebody, when she leaves her home, she has to have somebody guiding her with her. She can't do it anymore by herself.”

Their only hope to recover some vision loss is a surgery for a bionic eye. 

Dr.  Amir Mohsenin and Dr. Garvin Davis, UTHealth ophthalmologists with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and the Robert Cizik Eye Clinic, are placing the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System on the patient’s retina. Eventually, an external camera worn on glasses will communicate with the system implanted on her retina, which help her brain decipher basic images.

This implant is the first of its kind at Memorial Hermann. Going forward, the hospital said, this will be the only hospital in Texas to do this kind of procedure.

The company that makes the prosthesis said patients can eventually see light changes, which could help them cross the street or sort laundry. It seems simple, but it means that these patients don't have to be as dependent on other people to live in their own homes.

When the system is being used, a miniature video camera on the glasses captures images in real time. The coil on the glasses sends the signals wirelessly to the implant. Signals travel along the optic nerve to your brain, where they are perceived as patterns of light.

Over time, users learn how to interpret these visual patterns as objects and shapes.

“The camera coordinates with the implant in her retina and that's how the images come through,” Lopez explained.

It's not 20/20 perfection, but Victoria Lopez, believes it will help.

"Our expectations are not very big but enough to where maybe she can get around with a cane possibly, she can be able to tell the difference between concrete to lawn,” Lopez said.

Her mother’s eye is now recovering from the operation. Doctors will “activate” the system next month and the patient will begin using it for the first time. Only then will the success of the operation be determined.

Health reporter Haley Hernandez will follow the progress of the procedure. 

Copyright 2018 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.