Boston man's bionic eye gives back sight to blind man

After spending nearly quarter of his life blind, Anthony Andreottola had a groundbreaking operation that allowed him to see again. 

Andreottola was in his early 20s when he was diagnosed with a degenerative retina disease, a condition that would leave him blind by the time he was 35.

Now he has spoken of his new found independence, saying thanks to the technology he 'has his hope back'

Anthony Andreottola, 56, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in his early 20s and was blind by the time he was 35 years old. The Medford, Massachusetts man was finally able to see again with the help of a bionic eye

The Medford, Massachusetts, man had to turn in his driving license and relearn how to get around as he slowly began to lose his sight.

Andreottola spent two decades completely in the dark before he saw the light again for the first time in 20 years in 2016.

The father-of-two had his vision partially restored when he became one of the first to receive a bionic eye that sent images to an implant in his eye from a tiny camera. 

Now the 56-year-old is able to get back some of the independence that he lost all those years ago and said the device has given him his hope back.

Andreottola said he slowly had to accept his gradual vision loss when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a young man.

Andreottola had his bionic eye operation at Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore in October 2015. The device uses a camera to send images to an implant in his eye

Writing on his blog, he said: 'With each stage of loss came a period of adjustment followed by a level of acceptance only to have this scenario play itself over and over again as my vision gradually declined.

'Total blindness was the destination and once I got there, I believed there was nowhere left to go. Once my vision was totally gone I didn't have to make any more difficult adjustments and it was, in many ways, a relief for me.'

The substance abuse counselor said he felt adjusted to his lifestyle and was at peace with it, at least until he heard of the Argus II, a bionic eye device, in 2014.

Andreottola then had his eye operation at Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore in October 2015.

However, it took six months for him to regain some of his sight in 2016 and his eyesight is still severely limited.

Argus II works by transferring video images, captured by a camera in special spectacles, into electrical impulses that can be read by the brain.

The electronic signals are sent wirelessly to electrodes placed over the damaged cells at the back of the retina.

The impulses stimulate the retina's remaining cells, resulting in the perception of patterns of light in the brain.

The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns.

Most patients see them as sparks or flashing lights, where previously they would have seen nothing.

They are able to make out shapes, such as people or objects, and in the most successful cases have been able to read letters two inches tall.

Retinitis pigmentosa is an incurable disease, in which the retina at the back of the eye stops working. 

'I can tell the difference between a car or a bus or a truck. I can't tell you what make the car is' 

But Andreottola said his new eye has made all the difference in his life, most surprisingly for its psychological and emotional impact.

He added to the news station: 'I have my hope back. Once I lost my sight I was resigned to be blind for the rest of my life. 

'I'm not resigned to that anymore. I believe if I can live long enough, I'll be able to see a lot of beautiful things.'

Andreottola said he is able to get back some of the independence that he lost all those years ago and said the device has given him his hope back

Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina—which is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye, according to the National Eye Institute. 

The disorder is inherited and results from harmful changes in any one of more than 50 genes. These changes will cause a loss of eyesight over time.

An estimated 1 in 40,000 people suffer from the condition both in the United States and worldwide.  

Andreottola wrote on his blog: 'Having taken this step has put me on the other side of the RP bell curve I am no longer losing sight- I am gaining it!

'It is extremely gratifying to know that I have benefited from this emerging technology and I am convinced that someone born with RP today will not have to deal with blindness as this game-changing technology evolves. 

'Today, after decades of losing vision, I have scored what I consider a meaningful victory for the first time and it feels really good. Thanks to the Argus II, I am on the other side of RP.' 

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June 17, 2017

Sources:` Daily Mail

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