For nearly half his life, Larry Hester, 66, lived without vision, following a medical condition that robbed his eyesight. On Oct. 1, he saw light again for the first time, thanks to the bionic eye implanted on him by the Duke Eye Center.
Hester suffered from a degenerative disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which at the time was barely understood by medical professionals. There were no identified treatments as well.
According to the blog of Duke Medicine, he became the seventh person in the U.S. and the first in North Carolina, to have been implanted with the bionic eye called Argus II Retinal Prosthesis Device, which acts as a visual aid sending signals of light to the brain.
The Center's retinal surgeon Paul Hahn, MD, started counting backwards from three before pressing the button to activate the bionic eye.
"Yes!" exclaimed Hester, after seeing light again in over 30 years of pure darkness. "Oh my goodness. Yes!"
The FDA-approved bionic eye device is said to have incorporated technology, which was developed initially by Duke Eye Center researchers, and complex features that were improved further and marketed by the Second Sight Medical Products company.
With wireless technology, Hahn implanted a sensor in Hester's eye on Sept. 1 to pick up the light signals sent by a camera affixed on special eyeglasses. The device was activated only three weeks later.
"I hope that [after some practice] he will be able to do things he can't do today: maybe walk around a little more independently, see doorways or the straight line of a curb. We don't expect him to be able to make out figures on TV. But we hope he'll be more visually connected," Hahn said on Today.com.
Hahn, however, warned that the bionic eye device will not give back his normal vision. It will only serve as his visual aid in distinguishing a door from a wall or a crosswalk.
Hester narrated seeing intense flashes of light when he tried to direct the camera at light-colored objects or at lights. He also recalled seeing things that he thought were memories of the past, such as a white duck swimming in a pond, the yellow chrysanthemums of his wife and a harvest moon.
Out of all this, his wife's most cherished moment would have to be during a football game one Sunday -- when he touched her face.
"It was just a beautiful touch," his wife Jerry said.
Hester will continue to go back to Duke Eye Center for further training on the bionic eye device, in order to learn how to identify objects and shapes from flashes produced by the device. He also expressed eagerness to help researchers with data that they can use to improve the new technology, hoping that other patients will also benefit from it.