Allen Zderad was recently able to see his wife of 45 years for the first time in a decade. The Minnesota man seemed to burst into simultaneous laughter and tears as he caught a glimpse of her with his new "bionic eye."
Zderad, who is 68, has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that began to progress at a rapid pace 20 years ago. The disease causes deterioration of the part of the retina that turns light into vision, and eventually leads to total blindness.
Now with the help of a recently developed medical device, Zderad's vision of the world has changed. He's one of just a handful of people in the world to get the "bionic eye" device known as Second Sight Argus II retinal prosthesis system. Zderad's was implanted by Dr. Raymond Iezzi of the Mayo Clinic.
"It's pulsing light, it's not like regular vision where it's constant," Zderad told his wife and the Mayo Clinic medical team. "It's the flash, and I've got to be able to interpret the changes in that shape."
The Second Sight Argus II doesn't completely restore vision, but with specially-equipped glasses the patient can see light, and therefore the contours and silhouettes of people and objects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Second Sight Argus II in February 2013 for people with rare, degenerative eye diseases.
This is not the first time this device has made headlines. In October, Larry Hester, a 66-year-old retinitis pigmentosa patient at Duke Medicine also got the implantable device.
"The light is so basic and probably wouldn't have significance for anybody else, but to me it's meaning I can see light and we can go from here," Hester said, shortly after trying out his new glasses for the first time.
Patrick Finnerty of Second Sight Medical Products helped to develop the device, and told Duke Medicine that the bionic eye provides a "pixilated type of vision." "The patient essentially has to try to determine what those flashes of light mean, and in many cases it can help them determine where a window is, light coming in through the window or where a doorway is, essentially help them navigate the world around them."