SPECIAL TRIAL: If you or someone you know has age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and has had a cataract removed, you may be a candidate for a new clinical trial that might help you regain some lost vision. Mercy Clinic – Eye Specialists is one of only 20 sites in the country participating in a new study to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a device called the Implantable Miniature Telescope (by Dr. Isaac Lipshitz) implant for patients with End-Stage AMD who have already had a cataract removed from the eye that will be implanted. If the trial is successful, many more people could potentially be helped by this procedure. The telescope implant is not a cure for age-related macular degeneration. Learn more by calling Mercy Clinic - Eye Specialists at (417) 820-7493.
Bobbi Savage never let increasing blindness from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) stand in the way of her independence. Despite 15 years of deteriorating vision, 83-year-old Savage has stayed in her own home and managed her own affairs. “The worst part was when they told me I couldn’t drive anymore. Thankfully, I have a wonderful group of friends who come by, pick me up, and off we go.”
Still, Savage missed seeing things like the colors of flowers and other daily details. “I wanted to see how old my friends had gotten. I wanted to see their faces,” she laughed. Patients with AMD have damage to their macula – the part of the eye needed for sharp vision when looking at objects straight ahead. It can’t be corrected by glasses or medication. So when Savage heard on the national news about a tiny, implantable eye telescope that could give patients with AMD their first chance at seeing again, she told Mercy ophthalmologist Dr. Thomas Essman she wanted to volunteer to be the first local case.
Dr. Essman referred Savage to Mercy ophthalmologist Dr. Shachar Tauber, who had actually watched the development of the product. “I learned about the CentraSight telescope from the physician who invented it,” Dr. Tauber explained. “He introduced me to the theory and I got to see several generations of the prototype. I was excited to actually bring it to a patient who was so willing to try it.” The telescope magnifies images that are straight ahead, bouncing those onto the healthy part of the retina.
Dr. Tauber performed the surgery to implant the telescope in November 2013. Smaller than a pea, getting it placed just right was key. That success was just the first step; a second surgery followed to remove a cataract from the other eye. With both surgeries complete, each eye was capable of a different task. The eye with the telescope was capable of seeing close up; the other eye could see things that were farther away. It left Savage’s brain with a real puzzle and took months of occupational therapy to sort it out.
“It is a lot of work,” said Savage. “I still go to therapy. We started with weekly sessions, then every two weeks and then monthly. Of course I had daily work I had to do at home, too. It can get really discouraging but you have to keep at it.”
Savage’s occupational therapist, Mindy Smithwick, said there was a breakthrough moment during therapy she’ll never forget. “I was working with her in the bathroom mirror to see her own face. She spotted herself for the first time in years and said, ‘Oh my gosh, look at those wrinkles! I did not know I looked so old.’ That was a great day.”
Not only can Savage see the wrinkles on her own face and her friends’ faces, she can see the houses across the street. But the biggest reward may have been a recent trip to Vermont for a reunion with her siblings. “Everyone was worried, but I got myself through the airports with no problem,” she said. “All the scenery was so clear.”
And while she never stopped managing her own affairs, daily tasks have taken on a new ease. “I can read now – I haven’t been able to do that in about 15 years. I can also write my own checks. Everything is so much brighter – literally and figuratively.” As for her future plans, they certainly don’t include giving up her independence. “They would have to drag me out of my house,” she laughed.
*Earlier this month, the FDA approved lowering the age requirements for the eye telescope. It’s now available for those ages 65 and older, rather than 75 and older.