“I saw his hand– I couldn’t miss that,” said Khaleda Rahman, a Syracuse native who was able to see for the first time in decades thanks to a “bionic eye.”
71-year-old Rahman was blinded by an inherited disease, and she is now the first person in New York State to receive the FDA-approved Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System by doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
The device allows her to distinguish light and motion, which she hasn’t been able to do in decades.
There are fewer than 100 people in the U.S. that have the device, designed for people who have lost their vision as a result of retinitis pigmentosa.
“We dedicate our careers to restoring and improving vision and preventing vision loss. The ability to see someone who couldn’t see before, start to see again is very rewarding,” said Mina Chung, M.D. of the Flaum Eye Institute. She worked with retina specialist Ajay Kuriyan, M.D., and anesthesiologist Anil Pisharoty, M.D., to implant the device Aug. 29 and then the ophthalmologists activated it Sept. 24.
The Argus II device, made by Second Sight, works by converting images captured by a miniature video camera mounted on the patient’s glasses into a series of small electrical pulses, which are transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes implanted on the surface of the retina.
These pulses are intended to stimulate the retina’s remaining cells, resulting in the perception of patterns of light in the brain. The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns, thereby regaining some visual function.
The optoelectronic device restores vision by allowing people to see contrast, such as a doorway or light-colored dish on a table, in addition to motion.
Rahman and her husband Bazlur came to the United States in 1970 and raised a son. She continued taking classes at Syracuse University, even as her vision diminished and she relied on visual aids and Braille more and more.
“I do not let this stop me from doing what needs to be done,” Rahman said. “I still cook our favorite foods and I have a fast hand for knitting. I have a really good memory and have learned some tricks to get through my days.”