Woman with bionic eye explains what it’s like to see again

Bionic eye
(Image credit: iStock)

Suffering from the blindness-inducing disorder retinitis pigmentosa, Rhian Lewis, 49, hadn't been able to read a clock with her right eye in 16 years or with her left eye in six. That all changed after the surgical implantation of a "bionic eye" in June:

The implant — a 3mm sq array of around 1,500 light sensors which sends pulsed electrical signals to nerve cells — is connected to a tiny computer that sits underneath the skin behind the ear. This is powered by a magnetic coil on the skin. From the outside, it looks like a hearing aid.When the device is first switched on, patients see flashes of light, but over a few weeks the brain learns to convert those flashes into meaningful shapes and objects. The images can be black and white and grainy but still have the power to transform lives. [The Guardian]

After being able to read the time on a clock, Lewis said, "Honest to god, [it] felt like Christmas Day." Later, when out on a walk and recognizing a car, Lewis said, “I was just so excited, I was quite teary. The enormity of it didn't hit me until I'd actually got home, thinking 'Oh my god, what have I done? I've actually spotted something out that I haven't been able to do.'"

Bionic eyes have been tested as treatment for retinitis pigmentosa since 2012, though Lewis is the first patient outside of Germany to be implanted with the newer model of the device. Watch Lewis talk about the experience of recovered sight at The Guardian.

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