A Honolulu woman who went blind two years ago will soon be able to see again thanks to her new bionic eye.
Surgeons at the Eye Surgery Center of Hawaii implanted the device on Tuesday into a 72-year-old Japanese-American woman who had gone blind two years ago due to an incurable hereditary disease called retinitis pigmentosa, said Dr. Gregg Kokame, who performed the operation. He told ABC News the hospital was not identifying the woman by name, but that she was the first person to receive the implant in the Asia Pacific region.
"She'll actually start to see motion, actually start to see somebody walk into the room and be able to see different shades of grey," Kokame said, explaining that she was totally blind and could perceive only some light before the 4-hour surgery.
Kokame and his team implanted a microelectrode array on the surface of the woman's retina that connects wirelessly to a pair of glasses with a camera, he said. The glasses process images and transmit them to the implant, which then sends that information to the woman's optic nerve and onto her brain.
The device will not help the woman to see color or fine detail, but as the software advances, he said the implant will still be able to communicate with it.
The woman will heal for two weeks before Kokame and his team can turn the device on for the first time. He said she'll be able to see her loved ones first because he's sure they'll want to be right there with her.
"She was in very good spirits," he said. "She's a very pleasant, very strong lady. She's looking forward to having the implant turned on."
The device, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, costs $144,000, but it was covered by Medicare for this patient, Kokame said.
That price tag is a small fraction of that for the fictional "Six Million Dollar Man," but it's a giant leap for real-life bionics.