New Contact Lens Lets Blind See

Helen Gelhot, was blind but now she sees
For 14 years Helen Gelhot lived in the dark.

Blinded by badly diseased corneas, she had never even seen her husband or her 8-year-old daughter but, as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, Gelhot had seen her share of excruciating pain.

"Even with metal shields on both eyes and cotton under them and glasses over them, a night light would cause me exquisite pain," she says.

Until now.

An innovative device developed by Dr. Perry Rosenthal has Gelhot browsing through bookstores again and asking, "Is that Hillary and Bill? Is that Harry Potter? That's what he looks like?"

It's called the Boston Scleral Lens. Unlike a normal contact lens, which sits right on the cornea, this much bigger lens only touches the sturdy white of the eye known as the sclera.

"It is the only contact lens device that creates a bandage of fluid over the cornea that protects it from exposure and even blinking," says Rosenthal.

Each individual lens is custom made to precisely fit each damaged eye.

Initially it is difficult to put into the eye, says Rosenthal.

Sixteen-year-old Arjun Nigam patiently spent an entire day trying to get his lenses in.

After years of pain and blurry vision, he's now dreaming about a driver's license.

To him, "it means a lot of freedom."

Rosenthal's lenses have given freedom to many. He has a 90 percent success rate and can fit about 200 people a year.

In effect, he's restoring sight to the blind.

"I just marvel," he says. "To me, it's like a miracle."

Of course, there's a catch. The lenses are expensive, costing about $7,500 to make. And although they are approved by the FDA, Rosenthal has been unable to open the eyes of insurance companies who will not pick up the tab.

"They're just saying, 'Sorry, our policy doesn't cover it,'" he says.

But Rosenthal refuses to turn any one away regardless of their ability to pay and has not taken a salary in years. His goal is to open clinics around the country to help the thousands of people with corneal damage, but unless insurance companies get on board, even this man who gives sight to the blind will not be able to share his bigger vision:

"Sight should not be a gift, it's a birthright."