Allen Zderad lost a career in science because of a degenerative eye disease. Now, science is allowing him to see his wife for the first time in 10 years.
The 68-year-old former chemist from Minnesota recently became the recipient of a “bionic eye” implant, a chip with electrodes implanted in his retina that interacts with a camera in Zderad’s glasses. The camera and wearable computer pack sends information to the electrodes, which then send the information on to the optic nerve.
The result doesn’t allow Zderad to see any detail, but he can make out shapes and forms, allowing him to navigate places without a cane, according to the Mayo Clinic News Network. After an operation at the Rochester, Minn., clinic in January, Zderad had the camera placed over his eyes a couple of weeks later and reacted to those first sensations of sight with a mixture of excited laughter and joyful tears.
He hugged his wife and the two held hands for a moment.
“It’s crude but it’s significant,” Zderad tells his ophthalmologist, Dr. Raymond Iezzi, as he grabs his hand in a Mayo Clinic video of the event. “You know, it will work.”
Iezzi was treating one of Zderad’s grandsons, who is in the early stages of the same eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, for which there currently is no treatment or cure. Iezzi wanted to see his patient’s grandfather, looking for someone to be part of the first clinical trial in Minnesota involving the eye implant.
The device, developed by Second Sight Inc. and implanted in only 14 other patients so far, creates “artificial vision” in the retina’s photoreceptors, which become damaged by the disease, Iezzi said.
“These photoreceptors are like pixels in the eye,” Iezzi said. “The retina in this patient is healthy except for the photoreceptors and so what we’re trying to do is replace the function of the photoreceptors with the retinal prosthesis.”
Zderad has weeks of therapy and adjustments ahead to adapt to the device, but he already can make out his wife in a group of people.
“It’s easy,” Zderad said. “She’s the most beautiful one in the room.”