By Mia Wang
Banner News staff
After losing his eyesight for nearly 20 years, Boone resident Steve Myers, 63, became the first person in the state of Iowa who gained back some vision through bionic eye technology.
The bionic eye is a device that includes a pair of glasses equipped with a camera and a signal transmitter, a video processor, a signal receiver and an electrode. Before wearing the glasses, patients need to have an eye surgery: implant an extremely thin electronic signal receiver and electrode plate in the retina. The captured image will wirelessly pass to a miniature receiver outside the bionic eye. Next, the receiver passes the data through a micro wire to a row of electrodes on the retina, which is a special cell membrane that reacts to light behind a bionic eye. When the electrode is stimulated, this special cell passes the information through the optic nerve to the brain, so that the brain receives bright spots and black spots. Researchers hope that patients can learn to “translate” different images into visual patterns through practicing.
Steve Myers has a condition known as end stage retinitis pigmentosa, which 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. Common symptoms include difficulty seeing at night and a loss of side (peripheral) vision. He quit driving at 39 years old in 1992, and started to lose his vision before 2000. In 2006, the condition hit rock bottom for him where he could barely tell differences between dark and light.
Myers commented on this technology, “There are only 60 electrons on it, and a human eye has 1 million pixels, it is not even close to what a human eye can do, but compared to darkness, it’s remarkable what electronic and engineers have achieved.”
When asked about the whole experience, Steve said, “There is a doctor named David Saggau from Wolfe Eye Clinic. He was the one who first suggested it to me in January. I went back to Dr. Saggau February 20th to let him do an exam on me. Then we went up to Mayo Clinic on March 13th. They said I met the requirements. So they set the surgery date on July 18th. And the activation is August 17th. On the activation day, it was kind of scary. My friends and family were there. I think there were 13 of us. Luckily, everything was a great success.”
After the surgery and the recovery, Steve is still learning the basics, like using a magnet board with white bars, and little figures on black background. He has to retrain the brain to understand what he is seeing. The brain is downloading the information that he hasn’t had for almost 20 years. The doctors said, after 4 months, Myer’s brain will really start to kick in.
Steve’s wife shared her perspective on her husband’s bionic eye experience. Becky Myers said: “It was very emotional. I was even crying before the surgery started. Right now, he works really hard on training himself. Sometimes too hard, but he is such a go-getter.” She is also glad her husband’s story is able to help other people who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, when they have doubts and hesitation about the procedure, hopefully, her husband’s experience can inspire and encourage them.