First Philadelphian to Undergo Eye Implant Surgery

An 82-year-old woman is making history as the first patient in Philadelphia to receive a vision-improving implantable device in her eye.

“I couldn’t see to do the things I loved and I want to do them again,” said Norma Snyder, who was an avid reader, jewelry maker and needle pointer before losing her vision to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). 

AMD caused the grandmother to gradually lose her central vision, which allows one to see colors, shapes and other details sharply and eventually led doctors to declare Snyder legally blind.

But after doctors place a 4.4 millimeter Implantable Miniature Telescope (IMT) in one of her eyes Monday, Snyder will be able to read again.

“Not being able to read was a big loss for me so I stayed on top of the news about this procedure but up until now, I wasn’t ready for it, and it wasn’t ready for the market,” she said.

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2010, the device works like a camera’s telephoto lens or a telescope, according to medical professionals at the Wills Eye Hospital, where the surgery was performed.

“Looking through a telescope gives you a magnified but narrow field of view,” said Dr. Carl Regillo, chief of retina service at Wills Eye. “It is not going to be a perfect image. …There is always a central blind spot, but effectively when you magnify everything around it, the blind spot is getting smaller.”

Wills Eye, which has two doctors designated to performing this particular surgery, is ready for other candidates to opt for the implantation.

“It is sort of like cataract surgery, but it is a very special implant,” Regillo said.

“But if you already had cataract surgery, you are not eligible because a native lens has already been removed,” he added.

Along with that essential requirement, Regillo describes the ideal candidate as someone who has decreased central vision in both eyes that are otherwise healthy. The degeneration must be stable and the patient must demonstrate that they will benefit visually from the device.

“They are handed the equivalent – a telescope that’s held in their hand – as an outpatient and asked to use it for a while,” he said. “If the patient doesn’t perceive a significant benefit, then they wouldn’t proceed with surgery.”

Regillo says it will be several months before Snyder will regain that portion of her vision.

“It is a process. This isn’t a quick, one and done,” he said.

Aside from the initial recovery, Snyder will spend several weeks in visual rehabilitation, which Regillo likens to physical therapy for the eye.

Now that the operation is complete, Snyder -- who couldn’t wait for the IMT to become available in Philadelphia – can’t wait to open up a book again.

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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