Blind World

Brothers benefit from Optobionics microchip. The 2 are seeing better after the device is implanted in their eyes.

July 7, 2002.

Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA).

Together, identical twin brothers and Platteville, Wis., natives Delvin and Melvin Kehoe have seen the best of times and the worst of times, literally.

The worst being more than 20 years of darkness stemming from retinitis pigmentosa, a disease they inherited from their mother, Viola. It affects the "light sensing" cells in the retina and eventually leads to blindness. The best being hope that after years of blindness, another pair of brothers might have the answer to their condition.

On July 25 last year, Delvin, and a day later Melvin, became part of an elite six-person group to have an experimental microchip, powered by light, placed in one eye to help stimulate damaged retinal cells and allow them to again send visual signals to the brain.

It sounds like science fiction, but for the 60-year-old Kehoe brothers, it might be the answer to their prayers.

"All my life, I thought that someday someone would come up with something," said Delvin, who still lives in Platteville.

Whether the Artificial Silicon Retina, created by the co-founders of Optobionics, Dr. Alan Chow and Vincent Chow, is a success or not, is starting to come into view.

Before the surgery, Melvin's eyesight was 20/1600 and Delvin's was 10/800. Legally blind is 20/200.

Delvin described the progression of the disease: "It is like seeing 10,000 lights and turning one off each day. It is a very slow process. You don't notice it. Pretty soon, you don't have very many lights left."

Although once low on "lights," after having the chip for nearly one year, Delvin's vision is 20/400.

"I took my dog, Bud, out to a park last fall," Delvin said. "It was early morning, and I heard some Canada geese. I could hear them so plain. I looked up in the sky, it was 100 yards away, and I could see this formation of geese. That was really something.

"I thank God every day for me and my brother. I'm not a religious man, but I still thank God."

Although Melvin, who lives in Prairie du Chien, Wis., with his wife, Jo Ann, cannot see as well as his brother, he has shown some improvements in recent months.

Prior to this summer, the brothers were not allowed to discuss the results of their implants with each other so they would not affect the test results.

The day the brothers found out how the other was doing was not exactly what they had hoped.

During an interview in an open field, a reporter walked 30 to 50 feet away from the pair.

Delvin could still see him; Melvin could not.

It was hard for both brothers, but Melvin's eyesight eventually started to come around.

In February, they were at Optobionics, located in Wheaton, Ill., for testing, and the Chow brothers were printing a magnified picture of Delvin's eye.

"Melvin said, 'What is that?' He pointed to the picture of my eye. 'Is that his eye?' He pointed to the chip and said, 'Is that the chip?' Doc (Alan Chow) almost fell off his chair," Delvin said.

"When Melvin saw that chip, I was never so happy in my life."

Last June, Dateline NBC aired a special report on the brothers.

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