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PHOTO BY HEATHER BONHAM  A vision-restoring telescope protrudes from Jane Waterman s eye during an Oct. 10 press conference to discuss the groundbreaking procedure.
PHOTO BY HEATHER BONHAM

A vision-restoring telescope protrudes from Jane Waterman s eye during an Oct. 10 press conference to discuss the groundbreaking procedure.

By Heather Bonham

Contributing Writer

At 79, Jane Waterman has a new glint in her eye and is just now beginning to read again, thanks to a tiny telescope doctors recently implanted in her eye to counter blindness related to end stage macular degeneration.

The former longtime library and hospital volunteer was the first Texas patient to receive the new CentraSight implant in July. The procedure was performed by a team of local doctors: Jim Dooner, retina specialist; Gina Cottle, ophthalmologist and surgeon; Laura Miller, optometrist and low-vision specialist; and Erik Hammer, occupational therapist.

“We put the sparkle back in her eye,” Cottle of Lake Austin Eye said during a press conference Oct. 10 at the clinic located between Lake Pointe and Senna Hills subdivisions.

The statement can be taken literally, as the miniature telescope is smaller than a pea. It can be seen as a glint in Waterman’s eye.

For the last 10 years, Waterman’s vision had slowly deteriorated because of macular degeneration. The eye disease is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans. Approximately two million Americans have advanced forms of macular degeneration with vision loss, and of those, more than 500,000 with end-stage macular degeneration may be considered candidates for the implant.

The telescope implant, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2010, offers an option to advanced macular degeneration patients who previously had run out of treatments. The disease in its early stages has some drug-treatment options but none for the end stage, until now.

As someone with end stage MD, Waterman had a black spot in the middle of her vision that blocked out whatever she looked directly at.

“I could see your body, but I couldn’t see your face,” she said of her pre-implant vision.

The loss of vision meant she couldn’t read her utility bills or books she loved. Sometimes, it made having conversations difficult.

“I’d be with a group of friends, sitting and talking and then there’d be a silence in the conversation and I’d say, ‘Are you talking to me?’” she said.

After the new telescope implant was authorized in 2010, it received approval for Medicare in October 2011, said Cliff Southard of CentraSight. Since then, more than 50 patients – first in California and now Texas and other states – have received the implant. The CentraSight eye-care program is offered by VisionCare Ophthalmologist Technologies.

To be considered for the surgery, a patient must be in end-stage of the eye disease, cannot have had cataract surgery in both eyes and must be at least 75 years old. The procedure is considered outpatient and takes about an hour.

Miller, who is working with Waterman during her recovery, said patients who receive the implant have to retrain their brain to process their new monovision, where one eye is used to see things up close, such as a utility bill or a book, and the second eye for far away objects – like road signs.

Waterman said recovery has been good but has taken hard work.

“It’s been exciting … but it isn’t like waking up one day after surgery and I can do anything I want to do,” she said. “It’s frustrating, but I know it’s necessary. I see positive changes and I know it’s worthwhile.”

Miller said the surgery and recovery process allows patients such as Waterman to regain their ability to see and more fully participate in life as they knew it.

“It’s huge; it gives them their life back,” Miller said.

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