The pioneering eye implant giving North East patients the chance to see again

  • Watch Helen Ford's report

The first North East patients are benefitting from a pioneering treatment aimed at giving back their vision and their lives.

It involves implanting a miniature telescope in the person's eye which enlarges what they see.

The procedure is for those with the common eye condition, age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.

Paul Dobson became the first patient at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary - and the UK - to receive the implant. He had the procedure in March, after living with AMD for several years.

Paul Dobson and surgeon Sandro di Simplicio. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The 69-year-old, who is from Prudhoe in Northumberland, is still adapting to life with the device but considers himself extremely fortunate to have received it.

He told ITV Tyne Tees: "Everything's bigger and I haven't got a blind spot. You're sort of taking somebody who's half blind, who will be able to see again."

Patients with age-related macular degeneration experience a dark spot in their central vision which grows over time until they are almost blind.

How does the procedure work?

  • It involves implanting a miniature telescope in the patient's eye, in a process similar to a cataract operation.

  • It is designed for people in the final stages of AMD, to reduce the effects of the blind spot and allow them to see clearly again.

  • The telescope measures 10.8mm in diameter and magnifies vision by 2.6 times.

  • The field of view offered by the telescope is small and is only implanted in one eye, leaving the other eye to provide some peripheral vision.

Consultant surgeon Sandro di Simplicio has led the work within the RVI's ophthalmology team. He said the procedure is life-changing.

"We are talking about patients who are legally blind, who struggle even on a day-to-day basis with the more mundane kind of actions such as having a look at what they are eating or going to a shop," Mr di Simplicio explained.

"This procedure, for those who are eligible, gives them the option to be able to get this kind of life back."

The mini telescope measures less than 11mm in diameter. Credit: Samsara Vision

The process of implanting the mini telescope takes around 20 minutes.

For patients, the hard work begins afterwards, as they learn to adapt to their new vision.

As they recover, they receive regular rehabilitation, in the form of sight exercises, from the team at the RVI.

"If you have lived sixty, seventy or eighty years of your life in a specific configuration, if one morning you wake up with two eyes which are completely different, of course, you understand that there is some work to be done," Mr di Simplicio explained.

So far, three patients have received the device at the RVI.

Janice Morris says the treatment has changed her life. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Among them, Janice Morris, who told us "a million thank yous" would not be enough to sum up what she has regained.

Her advancing AMD had left her unable to recognise the faces of family and friends and she was pessimistic about the future.

"To be honest with you, I've got my life back," Ms Morris said. "I can do really pretty much what I want: In the house, I can make my own coffee where before the sugar was all over the floor.

"I thought I was never going to be able to see anybody again, that was how bad I was."

The device, which is also being used elsewhere in the world, is only suitable for certain patients with advanced AMD.

It cannot be considered for those who have previously had cataract surgery.

Even so, the Newcastle team is keen to identify other patients who could be considered for this treatment.

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