TEI Provides Rehab Services to First Retinal Implant Patient

TEI Provides Rehab Services to First Retinal Implant PatientIn her early 20s, Rose Marie Wade was told that her life was over and that she should never have children because of her diagnosis. A doctor diagnosed her with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare, genetic disorder that damages the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. For most with this condition, vision loss occurs over time. Wade’s ability to see and perceive light gradually faded, leaving her with very minimal light perception in her right eye and none in her left eye.

For the first time in years, Wade, 62, saw a bright, white glow standing in front of her. That day, she did not need to rely purely on the sound of her husband Steven’s voice to locate him. The white light was Steven smiling back at her as she turned on her new Argus® II retinal implant system for the first time.

“You don’t see anything and then all of a sudden there’s a light,” she said, reflecting upon the emotional day.  After nearly 40 years of constant personal research, travel and participation in a Johns Hopkins University study to improve her vision, Wade finally found the solution she was looking for at Philadelphia’s own Wills Eye Hospital. Earlier this summer, she underwent surgery there to receive the implant, which consists of a specialized pair of glasses with a camera connected to a processing unit. Those with the retinal implant do not regain sight in the traditional sense, but they are able to better perceive light and darkness.

“The implant electrically stimulates the retina to allow blind patients to have visual perception,” explained Dr. Erin Kenny, chief of the William Feinbloom Vision Rehabilitation Center, located at The Eye Institute (TEI), where Wade is performing rehab. “It is important to note that these patients are not technically ‘seeing,’ but rather they are ‘perceiving.’” 

Wade is now learning how to effectively use her retinal implant system to maximize her new visual capabilities and enhance her daily living activities. She is working with an interdisciplinary team at the Feinbloom Center, which includes an optometrist, occupational therapist and orientation and mobility specialist.

TEI Retinal Patient
According to Wade, adjusting to her new vision capabilities has been a journey. During her rehabilitation visits at the Feinbloom Center, her goals involve learning how to interpret the visual cues she is receiving. The device can be adjusted for contrast depending upon the environment.
“Everybody sees differently. Mine ranges from almost a very dim greenish light up to a very bright white light that is almost blue or purple in tint,” she said. “So here I need to teach my brain how to understand what this is all about, because I haven’t seen for 20 years, other than light.”
Wade continues to have a positive outlook when it comes to her future and her vision. She has already proved the doctor wrong who diagnosed her with RP. While her sight was still strong, she drove up and down the East Coast to take in the sights of some of America’s greatest cities. She’s traveled alone to Cuba. She is married and has two children and two grandchildren. As she becomes accustomed to the retinal implant system, Wade hopes the new technology will help her reconnect with some of her favorite pastimes.
“I love the theater and used to have a season membership to Longstreet Theatre. I’m looking forward to maybe doing that again,” she said. “I spend a lot of time with my grandkids. All my granddaughter Stella wants to know is when I’m going to be able to see her jump off the diving board.”