The Hutchinson News


Oct. 17--Bionic Eye Raymond Graber

88-year-old man sees for the first time in more than 50 years thanks to bionic eye

By Ashley Booker The Hutchinson News [email protected]

It's been more than 50 years since Raymond Graber has seen sunshine.

Less than three weeks ago, that all changed.

While Graber wasn't born blind, he saw less and less as he got older -- that is, until things went completely dark in his 30s.

Graber, 88, is the second oldest person in the nation to be fitted for the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, commonly known as the bionic eye, made by Second Sight Medical Products, which gave him his sight back.

One of the first things he saw in a room filled with doctors at the UCHealth Eye Center in Aurora, Colorado, was his hand, and the bright sunshine when they took him outside.

"It was just wonderful," Graber said, adding that he never thought he'd be able to see again after going blind.

Prairie Sunset Home Activity Director Holly Henning was sitting in the room with Graber and was able to watch him see his fingers move.

"It was really neat to be able to see what he can see," said Henning, who saw the images displayed on a monitor. Graber is a resident at the adult care home in Pretty Prairie.

How Graber sees is much different than someone who is not blind, as he sees through a camera on a pair of Oakley glasses. He's able to see outlines of objects through contrasts of black and white.

Graber said he hopes the device with help with his mobility around the home and walking on the sidewalk outside.

He hopes to see well enough one day to be able to independently hop on the Rcat bus to Hutchinson and get a McDonald's hamburger and ice cream cone -- but he knows this will take time.

"Come Christmas time, I'm hoping to see some Christmas trees. I used to love Christmas trees," he said. "It sounds trivial, but when you haven't seen for so long, it means a lot."

In the beginning

In January, Henning was listening to a segment called "Tell Me Something Good," on the Bobby Bones Show, a radio station out of Nashville, Tennessee, that airs locally on weekdays.

The radio personalities were saying a man recently saw his wife for the first time in 30 years thanks to the bionic eye.

She immediately thought of Graber. In no time, the two were learning everything they could get their hands on about the device.

According to Dan Weaver, spokesman for UCHealth, a miniature video camera on the patient's glasses captures a scene, which is sent to a small video processing unit, which is processed and formed into instructions that are sent to the glasses through a cable. The instructions transmit wirelessly to an antenna in the retinal implant. These signals then are sent to an electrode array, which emits pulses of electricity. The pulses bypass the patient's damaged photoreceptors, stimulating the retina's remaining cells, which transmit the scene along the optic nerve to the brain, creating a perception of patterns of light.

Patients learn in time to interpret these visual patterns.

They found the device was only for people with retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, an inherited disease that causes a gradual decline in vision due to the death of photoreceptor cells.

Graber has RP, although that diagnosis wasn't around until he was older. He said 80 years ago doctors weren't sure what was wrong with him.

The examination

A couple months after learning about the device, Graber went through an eight-hour exam which made sure he met the bionic eye qualifications.

Some of the criteria he had to meet were the correct length of his retina and size of his eyeball. His retina also had to respond to some stimuli.

Graber received the device -- which is in one eye -- five months after being called the "perfect candidate" by his primary surgeon, UCHealth Eye Center ophthalmologist Scott Oliver.

Doctors observed him over an eight-day stay at the University of Colorado Hospital, which is attached to the center. Beverly Stum, who is now retired from Prairie Sunset Home, spent the stay with him.

Graber said he hasn't been in any pain, although part of the device was surgically implanted in and around his eye.

The surgery, Oliver said, is very precise, and is all done under an operating microscope, as it's dealing with "one of the most delicate tissues in the human body."

Doctors waited a month after his eye healed, and then turned the device on.

There's a lot of work that goes into learning how the bionic eye works.

"He made it very clear that he was committed to learning how to use this new tool," Oliver said. "He has worked with the visually impaired for much of his life, and he had real expectations about what the device can and cannot do.

"His enthusiasm for what the device might do for him at this stage of his life was really over the top," Oliver said.

A learning process

Graber will be re-examined in a little less than six months to see how he's doing and how his daily therapy, which includes a black and white magnetic board with black and white shapes, is going.

His therapy includes scanning the board to see where an object is, and tracing the object with his fingers to train the brain to understand what it's seeing.

Oliver said the biggest challenge and learning curve is retraining the brain to understand what to do with the new visual information.

Graber's surgery was the second the eye center has done. The first was late last year.

The center hopes to perform one more surgery this year due to the success of the others.

Their first patient, Jamie Carley, was able to see fireworks for the first time in decades, watch the television and use it while vacuuming to avoid colliding into furniture.

Carley has been using the system for about 10 months. She was there to give Graber tips the day the doctors turned his device on.

Oliver looks forward to hearing what all Graber will use it for.

Graber said he sees more and more every day, because he uses it every day.

He hopes more people learn that the device is available and FDA approved in the United States. And maybe, by the time they are his age, the device will be perfected.

But for now, it's more than he could have dreamed for.