Telescopic eye surgery restores Columbus woman's sight

Most people use a telescope to look at the stars, but a Columbus woman uses one to read.

Eleanor Strickland, 77, suffers from age-related macular degeneration, which is a progressive eye condition that attacks the macula of the eye that is responsible for straight-ahead, detailed vision.

There is no cure and it can't be helped by wearing glasses.

Strickland had her outermost peripheral vision but saw little but a large dark spot until on March 29, 2013 she traveled to Emory Eye Center in Atlanta and began a CentraSight treatment that involved a telescope, smaller than a pea, being implanted in her left eye by an opthalmic surgeon.

During the operation, the eye's natural lens was removed and replaced by the telescope which was inserted through the cornea.

She was one of the first to have the surgery done at Emory.

CentraSight, developed by VisionCare and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, uses micro-optical technology to magnify images which would normally be seen in one's straight ahead or central vision. The images are projected onto the healthy portion of the retina not affected by the disease making it possible for patient to see and discern objects of interest within their central vision.

"Being able to see again is wonderful. It is not 20/20 by any means but it does make things big and close. I can read again."

Her husband Shelby Strickland had been reading newspaper to her. Both are graduates of Columbus High and the University of Alabama.

It was four years ago that her vision began to deteriorate. She loves to cook but could no longer see the recipes. She had to put her crochet needles down.

"When you can't see, you ask the person you love 1,000 questions a day," she said. "I was always having to ask people what time it was."

She would go to family events but felt left out.

It was one night in 2012 while watching television that the Stricklands found out about the procedure. They were watching ABC news.

"I learned about the FDA approval of this miracle," she said. "I knew they were doing it at the General Eye Institute in Massachusetts but I did not know if anybody in the south was doing it."

Her husband searched online to find out more. That research led them to Emory.

She said she was excited and nervous on the day of the operation. "I was afraid I could lose all of my sight."

There will be no operation on the right eye. "When I got the operation in my left eye I lost my peripheral vision so I need one eye with that."

She said the surgery took a little more than an hour.

Following surgery, she traveled back to Atlanta 21 times over several months for occupational therapy with vision rehabilitation specialists. The exercises and practice gave her the4 ability to use the telescope implant at its maximum effectiveness.

"I did what I was supposed to do," she said, "I had to train the eye."

She said the device is not visible although some have said that from a certain angle. it looks like there is a diamond in there.

In an article on the Emory Eye Center website, cornea surgeon John Kim, who performs the operation, said, "This new opportunity for those patients with end-stage AMD is exciting. Before now, there were no real options to improve their quality of life. With this surgery and subsequent therapy, the implant may provide them with the ability to do those everyday things we all take for granted such as seeing the faces of family members."

The Stricklands have three children and six grandchildren. She said that now she can see them in person and through social media on her iPad, that life is great.

Of the operation, she said "it was worth the risk."