Larry Hester, a 66-year-old tire salesman from Raleigh, North Carolina, has spent the latter half of his life blind, due to a degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa that destroyed his photoreceptor cells. But thanks to new "bionic eye" technology, and Dr. Paul Hahn and his team at Duke Eye Center in Durham, North Carolina, Hester is no longer entirely in the dark, reported Today.com.
"It was incredible," Hester says in the video from Duke Medicine about his new sense of vision. "It was bright and it was significant, and I just had to take a deep breath... It was hard to articulate what I was feeling, but I wanted to share it with everybody I could grab at the time and hug."
After his initial diagnosis at age 33, Hester did everything in his power to lead as normal a life as possible alongside his friends and family. He counted on his memory to make his way around his home, and continued to run his business for as long as possible, according to the Herald Sun.
When his wife, Jerry, heard a news story last year about the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System receiving FDA approval for use in situations like Larry's, she shared the information with her husband, and they approached the doctors at Duke Eye Center last August for an evaluation.
The system bypasses the damaged photoreceptors that leave patients in a state of dark blindness, and instead sends signals to the next layer of retinal cells that then connect to the optic nerve. A sensor is implanted in the eye, which then picks up light signals from a camera resting on a pair of eyeglasses, according to a statement from Duke Medicine.
Now, just a little more than a year later, Hester is the first patient in North Carolina -- and only one of seven people in the United States -- to test out this technology. The electronic stimulator component was implanted in his left eye in September, and Dr. Haun turned it on for the first time on Oct. 1.
As soon as Dr. Haun hit the start button, Hester could see the flashing light in front of him. As his wife leaned in and kissed him, everyone else in the room looked on with pure joy for this man who could now have a semblance of vision again. The device helps Hester differentiate between lightness and darkness, creating an ability to see through the contrast.
"The light is so basic and probably wouldn't have significance to anybody else, but to me, it's meaning I can see light, and we can go from here," Hester says in the Duke Medicine video.
Hester will continue seeing doctors Duke Eye Center for further training with the device so he can learn to tell the difference between different objects through the flashes he now sees.
"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," Dr. Hahn told Today.com. "We don’t expect him to be able to make out figures on TV. But we hope he’ll be more visually connected.”