Thirty-nine million people worldwide are living in total darkness - legally blind. Many of them lost their vision from accidents or disease. Now, a breakthrough device is shining a new light and allowing them to see like never before with artificial vision.
Bungee jumping, sky diving, baseball - you could say Jason Esterhuizen lives for the thrill of it. Even when that thrill is experienced in total darkness!
"I try and take up any opportunity that comes my way," shared Jason.
Almost nine years ago, a horrific car crash destroyed Jason's eyes.
"I went up through the sunroof. I lost my right eye, my left eye, my optic nerve got torn, I broke my eye socket, my nose, my jaw at the top, at the bottom, my temple, my cheekbone and my skull," Jason explained.
Jason was told he would never see again.
"Medicine won't be able to fix this for you," Jason said.
But maybe technology can.
Jason is now seeing the light. He is the second person in the world using an experimental device called Orion.
"We're giving people artificial vision," Nader Pouratian, MD, PhD, Neurosurgeon, UCLA Health, told Ivanhoe.
Images are captured by a tiny video camera mounted on sunglasses - converted into a series of electrical pulses. The pulses stimulate a set of 60 electrodes implanted on top of the cortex which results in Jason perceiving patterns of light.
"Little white dots on a black background," Jason explained.
Dr. Pouratian said, "They can see the flashes of lights and patterns that they can then interpret and use in everyday life."
"From 50 feet away, I might just see two or three dots and as it moves closer, I see more and more and more and more dots. I know something's coming towards me," Jason said.
Giving Jason more confidence and a newfound hope for his future.
"It's mind boggling to think that this is even technologically possible," exclaimed Jason.
Six people have received the implant so far. UCLA has currently placed the trial on hold due to COVID-19 but intends to continue it in the future. The device is geared to people who used to be able to see but lost their vision to injury or disease and has the potential to restore useful vision to patients blinded by glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cancer, and trauma.
Contributors: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed, Videographer.