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Health Team

Implant provides limited eyesight to blind Raleigh man

Posted September 10, 2014

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— Larry Hester, 66, has retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disease that causes severe vision impairment.

For the Raleigh resident, it led to profound blindness.

Hester was diagnosed at Duke Eye Center 33 years ago, but he returned to the center Wednesday in hopes that he can see again through an implant designed to provide him with limited vision.

“I’ll be seeing with my brain, not so much with the eye,” he said. “I’m very excited and very happy and of course full of butterflies.”

Duke eye surgeon Dr. Paul Hahn implanted coils around one eye that is attached to a special stimulator inside the eye. The stimulator is tacked down to the surface of Hester’s retina that’s still intact.

The sight process starts when special glasses with a tiny camera picks up a signal and sends it to a computer through a wire that Hester will wear on his belt. The images are processed in the computer before wirelessly sent to the implant to stimulate the retina and relay images to the brain.

“What it does is provide a series of lights that provide identification of high contrast images that allow him to be more visually connected to the world,” Hahn said.

The procedure has been compared to a hearing-impaired person receiving a cochlear implant, which produces a type of sound the brain isn't familiar with but adapts to with training and experience.

The device, the Argus 2 Retinal Prosthesis System, is made by Second Sight.

Six other devices have been implanted across the country. Hester is the first to receive the device in North Carolina.

The outpatient procedure will allow him to see things more clearly.

“Being able to walk through a door without running into the door,” he said. “Maybe see the lights on a Christmas tree or maybe lights or fireworks.”

Hester’s family, including his wife and personal guide, Jerry, is excited about the possibilities.

“I am overjoyed. I can't even begin to tell you what it means to me, as his wife, to see this day come, because no one deserves it more than Larry Hester,” she said.

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