KALIDA — Linda Schulte said she cried when she found out there may be a way that she could “see” once again.
65-year-old Kalida woman was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when
she was in her forties. Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited retina
degenerative disease that causes slow but progressive vision loss due to
a gradual loss of the light-sensitive retinal cells. Patients with RP
experience loss of side and night vision, and later central vision,
which can result in near blindness.
Schulte said she initially heard about the process as a member of the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
in February 2013 she heard a news item that the process known as Argus®
II Retina Prosthesis System, developed by Second Sight Medical Products
Inc., of Sylmar, Calif, had received FDA approval.
Once she heard
this, Schulte was anxious to see if she qualified for the implant.
Contacting the California company she learned 10 sites in the United
States had been approved to do the implant.
“They recommended the
Cleveland Clinic since I live in Ohio,” Schulte said. “But when I
contacted them I waited and waited and never heard back.”
Schulte then contacted
the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center in Ann Arbor, another
approved site. “They called right back and were excited,” she said. Once
the process began, Schulte discovered she had to have patience to
endure the many steps and setbacks on her road to receive her “bionic
eye.” She had her first appointment in Michigan on Sept. 23, 2012.
Her initial exam revealed she had cataracts.
“They decided to have the cataract taken out of the right eye, since they thought this was the better eye.”
had the cataract removed in Lima and then returned to Michigan for an
exam. During the exam it was discovered there was a mole on the back of
the eye making it not good for the implant.
“I was depressed at
that point,” Schulte admitted. She returned to Michigan to have the
cataract taken out of her left eye. The doctors in Ann Arbor determined
this eye would qualify for the implant.
“Then we set up to have
the surgery on January 2,” Schulte said. “We had to cancel because there
was a blizzard and we couldn’t get to the hospital.” The surgery was
rescheduled for Jan. 16, 2014. Dr. Thiran Jaysunder was her surgeon.
doctor offered to pay for my hotel room if I would come up the night
before,” Schulte said. “He wanted to make sure I was there for the
Schulte was the first patient in the United
States to have the Retina Protheses System implanted after the system
received FDA approval. Schulte said there were doctors from all over the
world present at the surgery along with representatives from the Second
Sight Medical Products company.
The surgery to put in the implant
took four and a half hours. Schulte had the surgery on a Thursday and
came home on Saturday. The Schultes had to rush back to Michigan on
Sunday when Linda’s eye began to seep. She had to have followup surgery
on Feb. 6 when it was determined she needed another stitch.
“I had to wear a big eye patch all this time,” Schulte said.
Feb. 25, the Schultes returned to Ann Arbor for an appointment where
Linda was given her new glasses to go with her bionic eye. She was
instructed to wear the glasses so she could get used to them.
Schulte had sufficiently recovered from her surgery the retinal
prothesis was activated. Training then began for Schulte to adapt to the
Schulte’s glasses are equipped with a camera that
captures images and converts them into a series of small electrical
pulses. The pulses are transmitted wirelessly to the prothesis and the
numerous electrodes on the surface of the retinal. These pulses are
intended to stimulate the retina’s remaining cells, resulting in a
corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain.
having to learn to interpret these visual patterns. She has three or
four more visits for her training to adopt to the new way of seeing.
Schulte understands she will not have 20/20 vision or be able to
distinguish faces, but will be able to recognize dark and light shapes.
saw my grandson playing basketball,” she said proudly. She was outside
when he was playing wearing a shirt with a white stripe on it. “I could
see the flashes for the stripe and hear the basketball and knew I was
seeing him play basketball.”
Another time she was baking cookies
and saw the gallon of milk through flashes on the counter. “It kept me
from knocking the milk on the floor,” she said.
Schulte said she
and her husband “Smiley” have really appreciated the support they have
received from the community. “They have been so good with their support
and prayers,” she said.
“I couldn’t have done this without my
husband,” she added. “He has been supportive and driven me back and
forth for all the appointments.”
Since her surgery, four other
patients have received the implants and another man is scheduled to have
it. Schulte has been in touch with two sisters who had the surgery and
the man who is going to have the surgery.
“They want us to get together so we can share our experiences,” she said.
said if a person is considering the implant they need to have one or
two people who are able to make the many trips to the hospital that are
“You also have to understand you won’t get back things like being able to drive or read, but will experience some of the great little things like getting to see your grandchildren run around the yard.”