Madera man gets tiny telescope implanted in his eye

FRESNO, Calif.

Action News anchor Margot Kim gained exclusive access to the technology and the surgery -- and how it can change the life of a person who's legally, blind.

Ed Thomasson of Madera loves to spend time in his backyard oasis. But he can hardly see its beauty.

"I had perfect vision and then all of a sudden, dang, I can't see that anymore," said Thomasson. "That's when they told me I had macular degeneration."

The age-related condition deteriorates the central part of the retina, which affects "straight-ahead vision."

In the video above, you'll see an example of what a person with macular degeneration would see, a blank space or hole right in the center of their sight.

Ed wasn't about to just let his eyesight go. At the age of 82, he's an avid runner, bicyclist and reader. His doctors thought he'd be the ideal candidate for a first of its kind, miniature telescope implant, now available in Fresno.

The implant maker, CentraSight, says the tiny device is about the size of a pencil eraser. The wings on the side, anchor it to the eye. And just like a telephoto camera lens, it magnifies the central image for the patient.

Patients can look through a simulator telescope in their doctor's office, to see how the implant would function in their eye. Ed says it was a truly a case of seeing is believing.

Thomasson explained, "He says you look right in here and I looked in there and said 'oh my goodness, I've been missing all this?'"

Dr. Mehdi Ghajar said, "This is our first time treating someone with this technology and it's very exciting."

Cataract and Cornea Specialist, Dr. Mehdi Ghajar at Eye Medical Center of Fresno says Ed is the first patient in the Central Valley to get the telescope implant and one of only a few hundred across the country.

"It's permanent in the eye," said Dr. Mehdi Ghajar. "So he can potentially read without any other magnification. He can walk around and recognize faces without any handheld devices that he would have to bring up and take away."

We were given exclusive access to Ed's surgery at the California Eye Institute at Saint Agnes.

Anesthesia is applied to his eyes, but he stays awake for the procedure.

During our visit at his home before the surgery, he joked, he'd end up with superman-like vision.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Thomasson. "I'll be able to see what's going on in Chowchilla, Merced, San Francisco."

Back at the surgery center, in less than an hour, the implant is in.

The eye with the implanted telescope will be used for central vision. The other eye, in Ed's case, his left eye will be used for peripheral vision. He'll undergo occupational therapy to re-train his eyes to work together.

The surgery will not only be life-changing for Ed, but it's seen as a breakthrough procedure for Dr. Ghajar and his fellow specialists at Eye Medical Center.

"It's always been very frustrating because all we've been able to do is preserve the amount of vision they have. Not so much improve it," said Dr. Ghajar. "And this is a case where we can improve someone's vision."

The implantable telescope costs $15,000. Both the device and the procedure are covered by most insurance plans and Medicare.

Ed will have at least six months of occupational therapy along with several prescription changes for glasses as his vision improves, until one day soon he can look at the faces of his loved ones, again.

Macular degeneration affects almost two million Americans. 500 thousand new cases are diagnosed every year.

Patients are screened for a number of factors including age, eye health and vision level, before becoming candidates for the implant.

We'll continue to follow Ed, and we'll let you know about his progress with his new, telescopic eye.

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