Blind World

Bionic eye opens new world.
man has better sight after new eye gives him depth perception and eliminates glare.

Artificial Vision.
Bionic eye opens new world.
man has better sight after new eye gives him depth perception and eliminates glare. September 10, 2003.

By: Jill Schramm,
Editorial Staff Writer,
Minot Daily News.

John Palmer Jr.'s vision underwent major change when he received a bionic eye six months ago. He notices the change most, though, in the little things.

"I can back a truck up straight to the auger now," he said.

Except for getting grain dust in his eyes occasionally on his job as a farmhand, Palmer has been free of vision discomfort. That's a great relief for someone who suffered from glare and difficulty focusing.

"I don't get the headaches like I used to," said Palmer, who was in Minot for an appointment Tuesday with ophthalmologist Darrell Williams of Trinity Regional Eyecare-Williams Center.

The Westhope man gained national recognition on NBC's Today Show in March as one of the first in the nation to receive the implant, or "bionic eye," which replaced his iris and lens.

Palmer's eye had been ruptured in 1997 when a coupler came off a hose at his job and hit him in the face.

On Tuesday, Williams removed a stitch from the original eye repair that was causing inflammation and announced that the results of Palmer's latest eye tests look good. Palmer sometimes sees dots, called floaters, but the implant has restored his depth perception. The implant restored about two-thirds of Palmer's normal vision and corrected most of the glare caused by the lack of a pupil to control light.

Williams performed the implant surgery Feb. 27 after working two years to get the necessary approval for the device. The Food and Drug Administration allowed use of the implant on an investigational basis.

Palmer's implant is a custom-made device that replaces the middle structures of the eye. The iris is colored to be similar to his other eye and has a built-in intra-ocular lens. Palmer still has his retina and optic nerve, but most of his natural eye has been replaced.

Palmer says his family and friends describe him now as having eyes like a Siberian Husky, which can have vibrant, light-blue eyes.

The device implanted in Palmer's eye was made by OPHTEC, a Netherlands company that distributes products around the world. Palmer became the 15th patient in the United States to receive the implant. Williams said Palmer is the only person - to his knowledge -to have had an entire iris replaced.

Before the implant, Palmer's vision in his good, right eye was often thrown off by the glare in his left eye. Palmer said glare when driving would cause him to see eight vehicles where there was one. He took to wearing an eye patch over his left eye so he could see better.

"It was way below what we would call legally blind," Williams said. "Now if that was his only eye, he would not be considered blind. He would be considered to have fair vision."

The bionic device doesn't provide perfect vision because Palmer's cornea remains scarred.

Williams said Palmer could opt for a cornea transplant in the future if he decides he needs better vision.

Palmer said he plans to "take it one step at a time" in terms of future surgery.

"Right now, I am happy where I am at," he said.

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