AUSTIN -- A new, telescopic implant is giving hope to patients suffering from a debilitating eye disease.
Jane Waterman, 79, says macular degeneration started affecting her eyesight a few years ago.
"I wasn't able to see your face at all," said Waterman. "When I was having a conversation, I would have to say, 'Are you talking to me?'"
Macular degeneration is an aging process that begins to cloud or darken the center part of the vision or the retina called the macula.
"Not being able to read was the very hardest thing for me," said Waterman.
"At present we don't have a good treatment," said James Dooner, M.D., an ophthalmologist. "We can recommend nutritional supplements, but these things do not do anything to reverse the damage done by macular degeneration."
That is until now. Waterman's doctors told her about a revolutionary new treatment called CentraSight. It's a tiny, pea-sized telescope that's implanted inside the eye. It works like the telephoto lens of a camera.
"Up until this point macular degeneration patients have had to wear a telescope lens mounted on their glasses," said Gina Cottle M.D., the ophthalmologist and cornea specialist who implanted the CentraSight device in Waterman's right eye. "That gives you about an 8-degree visual field. "By putting the implant inside the eye you make that visual field about 25 degrees. It's much better just to be able to talk to people, move your head and see the image rather than have a mounted telescope which limits the peripheral vision considerably."
In July, Waterman became the first patient in Austin to receive the CentraSight implant. When she removes her glasses, you are able to see the implant protruding ever so slightly from the pupil of her right eye.
"It isn't overnight that all of sudden you just wake up, and boom it's there," said Waterman about her rehabilitation since the implant was put in place.
Doctors say it takes about six months to a year for patients to rehab or perform the mental exercises necessary to achieve optimal results.
"It's just a matter of teaching your brain to use the implant, because it's unlike anything they've ever experienced," said Cottle.
Waterman says she's already noticed considerable improvement in the three shorts months she's had the optical implant.
"It's wonderful, and it gets more wonderful as the weeks go by," said Waterman.
Doctors says candidates for the CentraSight optical implant must be 75 years of age or older. Their vision can't be too good or too bad, and patients cannot of had any previous cataract surgeries.